In the high school of technology, wireless is the prom king, star quarterback and valedictorian. Everyone wants to hang out with this kid. Software developers are trying to be crowned queen of applications, e-commerce wants to play alongside and hardware vendors can't stick close enough.
Although, no one can be sure whether his charm is lasting.
Imagine the ongoing homecoming race for lead operating system then. In one corner we have Palm, in another we have Windows CE. Also weighing in Linux, Symbian, BREW, IDEN, RIM and others.
There is no clear view as to who the princess of PDAs will be. Robert Fabian, director of the E-Technology Institute at Seneca College in Toronto, said there are two industry trends more or less contradicting each other.
"Trend one is that for near equal dollars, the full-featured product swamps the niche product. When Windows CE has all the features, all the capabilities, Palm OS is going to have difficulties," he said.
Fabian pointed out that, repeatedly in the computer business, a more general technology that is fully competitive - in terms of features, functions and everything else - swamps the niche technology. "The obvious expectation is that if you can put a completely general operating system on a wireless device that has all the special features, plus all the general stuff, that's going to be more attractive."
However, he said the second trend is in some ways a counter trend.
"It's nicely symbolized by the blinking 12:00 on a VCR. It's amazing the number of people who either can't or don't bother or don't understand how to change the time on their VCR. To the extent that a wireless device is like a VCR - a mass market, end consumer, unsophisticated sale - not giving the user too many choices is a good thing.
"This argues that you don't want to confuse (the end user) with the bewildering array of things that happen when you start up Windows, even baby Windows," Fabian said.
He is amazed by the number of people using or thinking about wireless technology. "People have a problem. They want technology to solve it, but they don't want to hear about options, they don't want to know about the OS. I have phone numbers, addresses, my to-do list - what's this operating system crap?"
Although he sees these two trends clearly, he doesn't know who will win, Fabian said.
At one end of the spectrum is Research In Motion's operating system, which was specifically developed to suit RIM's always-on always connected simple text-based messaging, according to Ken Price, manager of product marketing for Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Compaq Canada.
"At the other end of the spectrum is something like Windows CE, which is saying, 'Let's give people a real pocket PC and give them the same graphical experience, a lot of the same metaphors and themes - really the ability to browse anything,'" Price said.