The cellphone is suffering a slow death. Today, most business users have more devices than they know what to do with — a PC, a home phone, an office phone, a cellphone, a personal digital assistant (PDA) and maybe a pager. How many devices do users really want, and how many services are they willing

to pay for? It comes down to simplicity, which is driving the convergence of voice and data onto a single handheld device.

“”The cellphone will be dead by 2010 — that’s guaranteed,”” says Brownlee Thomas, principal analyst of telecom services at Forrester Research Inc. “”Everything that’s shipped will be data-enabled.””

She also predicts the death of the PDA as we know it by 2005. Replacing cellphones and PDAs, she says, is a product that has different form factors for different users, voice capability and some of the same functions as today’s PDA.

Vendors are already developing products that combine the features of cellphones and PDAs on a single device — Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and satellite-based global positioning system. PalmOne, Samsung and Kyocera recently released Cobolt 6.1, a wireless-ready version of the Palm operating system for GSM phones; it supports Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

But no single design fits all users, said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer with PalmSource Inc., the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based maker of the Palm operating system.

“”Sometimes when people talk about convergence, there’s this assumption everything’s going to converge down to a single standard design that everyone is going to use,”” Mace says. “”We don’t see that happening — it’s not like the PC market in the sense there are one or two killer apps that everyone is going to use.””

A salesperson who travels frequently, for example, might want a single device that provides voice, e-mail, instant messaging, short message service (SMS) and fax. Professional users, such as doctors, lawyers, engineers and academics, might look for a different product.

“”What these people usually want is not so much heavy-duty messaging features but large storage capacity, larger screens so they can read the documents they’ve got on the device and wireless browsing so they can look things up on online databases,”” he says.

It’s hip to be mobile

Then there are users — usually younger people just entering the workforce — who want a device that blends their profession with their personal lifestyle.

“”You might get a young doctor who wants to be able to access patient information on a device and in his off-time wants to listen to music or play games,”” he says. “”It’s not like IT managers are going to specify these devices, but you’re going to see more and more users say, ‘Look, this thing is in my pocket whether I’m at home or whether I’m at work, and I want something that can bridge both worlds,'”” he says.

The challenge is to understand these new market segments, says Mace.

“”Most of the companies in the industry are still operating on the assumption that it’s going to be just like the PC space and all you need to do is put out a faster processor and more memory and just soup up the hardware features and that’s going to be great,”” he says. “”But if you look at these devices, the ones that sell well are the ones that solve real problems for specific people.””

Examples include Research in Motion’s BlackBerry e-mail device, PalmOne’s handhelds, which allow “”basic synchronization with your PC,”” and Apple’s iPod music players.

“”Even if they do other stuff, they’ve always got this one flagship thing that they do extremely well,”” Mace said.

This trend is already happening with customer purchases — products such as the Garmin GPS device, Cathay entertainment device and tri-band smartphone, which all focus on a different type of customer.

Sierra Wireless has just rolled out its Voq Professional Phone that uses Windows Mobile 2003, which is targeting at business users.

“”It’s clearly a business thing, it’s not a soccer-mom phone,”” says Greg Speakman, director of marketing with Sierra Wireless.

The convergence of voice and data on a single device will mean different things to different users, he says. For people who carry around multiple devices, this could mean hard-dollar savings from having fewer devices with fewer wireless service accounts.

For other people, the benefits might be less tangible. If you’re a salesperson, for example, and a customer has a question you can’t answer, you can send a quick SMS message back to the office and 30 seconds later have the answer. “”It increases the customer’s confidence in you. It increases their satisfaction level,”” he says, “”and those are all very difficult to measure, but truly add value to an organization.””

However, many organizations are concerned about corporate information going wireless. In the past, employees often used their personal cellphones to conduct business. In the future, employees will likely use the same device for all of their needs, whether business or personal.

“”Generally, the IT community sees the wireless piece as an added unknown (and) there’s some concern over that,”” he says. But a wireless device in the field is no less secure than any other IT device on an IT infrastructure, he says, so the same level of security should be provided across the board.

Justify my ROI

Another challenge is showing customers how the return on i nvestment is justified, says Hernan Lardiez, marketing and sales manager with Nokia Canada Enterprise Solutions. While the use of such devices may not directly cut costs, they could benefit business in other ways, such as improved productivity, better access to information and the ability to provide better customer support.

“”If you can increase the productivity of your employees, that is one way you can demonstrate ROI,”” he says.

The Nokia Communicator 9500 will be available in Canada in the first quarter of 2005, and will offer business-critical applications, fast network connectivity and large memory storage, according to the company.

“”If you see how many phones we’re using today — probably at least three; at home, at the office and your cellphone — that is going to change one way or another,”” Lardiez says. “”We’ll look for one device doing most of the things we need.””

As devices continue to evolve, there will be a trade-off between size and function, say Alex Nanos, mobility solutions manager with Microsoft Canada. The idea is to replicate a user experience across all form factors, so the user has the same experience at her desk and on the go, he says.

“”By deploying the back-end server infrastructure once, deploying a single security model once, you’ve now opened up the infrastructure to be able to connect through any device,”” he says.

Forrester’s Thomas recommends that employers offer subsidies to employees who buy their own devices.

“”The individual needs a choice, needs to be able to see the form factor,”” she says. The product someone chooses will be based more on job function than vertical market, she says. They might also buy two devices from the same service provider who can give them a single plan.

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