Mobility to drive PDAs into future

All of the technology may not be in place yet, but make no mistake: the Palms are coming. PDAs are a hot form of wireless application device, and many of those who don’t have one yet will acquire one over the next year, predicts one industry analyst.

As businesses march to the beat of mobility, the advent of the Palm will increasingly become advantageous to individuals who are no longer chained to their PCs.

“The Palms get together in the back room and breed; you can’t stop them from coming,” said Jack Gold, vice president of Meta Group in Westborough, Mass.,

He conveyed his Utopian vision of the Palms potential as having “a Palm in my pocket, (a) phone in the other, the PC sitting here, and they’ll be able to wirelessly connect – that’s the goal.” He added that 75 per cent of white-collar workers will eventually be mobile.

One of the issues standing in the way of all this mobility is the current status of 2G and 3G technology. Gold said the former is still about two years away, while the latter is closer to five years away from coming into fruition. Also, the infrastructure is still not completely in place, because for these wireless devices to work to their potential, building more towers will be necessary, and that is a costly expense, Gold said.

“In the corporate setting, if I want my corporate people who are mobile to have these PDAs, (we) need to ensure they are all using the same ones, cut to the same standards,” said Graham McFarlane, the director of Western Management in Calgary.

“How do I create the infrastructure and servers to support these devices so that they can report back to the company,” he added.

Despite these shortcomings, Gold believes that the next year to 18 months is the time companies should look to implement these wireless devices, suggesting that these devices will grow in popularity and usage.

The purpose behind these devices is rather simple: to increase productivity, provide time-critical information and offer convenience.

“You would have trouble prying mine out of my hands. A good subset of my life is in my Palm,” said Fay West, the manager of Information Systems at the Research Council in Edmonton, Alta.

West added that because Palms are both portable and powerful, companies are using them as a means of sending people on the road. And convenience is also important. “I can just click on it, and not have to boot up my laptop – and the size – I can carry it in my purse”, she said.

McFarlane agreed with West’s assessment. “If every worker and manager were stuck in the office, then there wouldn’t be a need for these things…it’s being mobile and the need for communication anytime and anywhere,” he said.

One issue being debated is whether individuals will look for a convergence type of PDA that will combine functions, such as a built-in cell phone, or owning several PDAs that will have their own specific individual purposes. Gold believes that convergence will lead to sub-optimising, citing the converged laser printer/fax/scanner of nearly a decade ago that did poorly in the market. The same applies to PDAs that would lead to a sub-par device, he said.

“I can’t imagine having my Palm and phone in one device; I need to be able to see my Palm while I have my phone stuck to my ear,” West said.

McFarlane agreed, saying convergence on these devices is for more general use, like managers on the road who will need access to their e-mail. However, “there will also remain a need for the highly specialized device, like detailed engineering calculations, (because) for an engineer out in the field, they will need a more specialized device,” he said.

The financial side of using a PDA remains mixed. McFarlane said the cost “will be a factor unless there is a clear cost justification. At $700 a pop, that can really add up (and) senior management will want to see it justified.” Yet, in spite of the cost, he added that PDAs would become as common as the desktop telephone or PC.

“Cost is not a problem if you’re using it as a replacement for a laptop, because the cost is relatively smaller; the cost is high for people who view it only as a phone, list or calendar,” West said.

All the pieces are not yet in place, but as the white-collar workforce driving the mobile market continues to want these wireless devices, businesses may want to look, instead, at the cost of not going wireless.