More versatile PDA-phones


Watch MTV on it, play interactive games, browse the Internet, send and receive e-mail, SMS (short messaging service), and even MMS (multimedia messaging service), call up the gang for a good old fashioned chat ... all from this palm-sized device in your hand. 

Combination PDA-phones are slowly but surely taking over the mobile communications environment, according to Ng Kien Lock, country manager, O2 (Online) Ltd (Malaysia Branch). O2, a UK-based mobile phone operator, was formerly known as BT Genie, a unit of British Telecom. 

Right now, PDA-phone users are mainly corporate management and gadget people – PDA converts basically, because it is integrated, and is very versatile for them, said Ng. At RM2,988 each, O2's xda, its first-generation PDA-phone running on Micro-soft's Pocket PC Phone Edition, is necessarily a professional tool or a status symbol. 

“But we are seeing it moving downwards, from corporate management to the sales staff and to others who are mobile, and even to people who need to be in constant communication,” he told StarBiz in an interview, and predicted that as new models for general purpose consumer use come out, adoption will gather momentum. 

“And there'll by a lot more applications coming out. There's going to be entertainment – we're working with a company that provides streaming video over GPRS (general packet radio service) so you can actually watch MTV, and have your karaoke machine in your hand. 

“That's the next tier we are seeing move. And we are now working with the mobile phone operators to come out with bundles for these people. 

“And, I would say the country's GPRS infrastructure has stabilised and is at a very acceptable performance level today. From the start of announcing GPRS till now it has taken a good many months, but I think the telcos have done a very decent job for GPRS today. We do anticipate a boom in usage in GPRS in the coming months.”  

Ng expects new PDA-phone models to arise based on the input from telecommunications companies and customers.  

“We have heard them and now we are seriously looking into their suggestions.”  

He sees second-generation models incorporating such attachments as a digital camera. “Most of the devices will be attached because to build in an internal camera requires the architecture to be changed. And once it has come out in production, it is very hard to change the architecture,” he explained. 

“I anticipate the second generation of devices as they come out to be even more highly functional – to adopt more of the PDA functions – and to have extremely good communications. One thing I anticipate, and really hope to see, is that the battery life will continue to be like what it is today, if not better.” 

The current O2 xda uses state of the art lithium-ion polymer batteries, which last about a day on normal usage, in both PDA and mobile phone mode, Ng said. “Over time, hopefully, as the second and third generations come out, there'll be better and better battery life, and that is really required.” 

In fact, in a pre-production survey, participants told O2 they would buy a PDA-phone only if battery lifespan was practical. Other criteria were that it must have a colour screen and that it must look sophisticated, thus the xda's brush aluminium casing. 

While agreeing that improvements in battery technology have not kept pace with advances in information technology, Ng nevertheless is confident the industry will see new types of batteries coming out in the later part of this year. 

And in Malaysia, O2 has taken user expectations to a higher level.  

“One of the things which we have done, which is very unlike what anyone else has done with any device, is that we have actually pre-configured Maxis, Celcom, Digi and Time.  

“The moment you put in your SIM card, you'll be asked to select which mobile operator's settings you want. You click on that, and your O2 xda automatically switches to the appropriate settings for both WAP (wireless application protocol) and GPRS.  

“We worked with the telcos (in Malaysia) and got our factory to actually preset them. We had discovered this as part of the learning curve over the years.  

“Remember when WAP came out, there was a big hoo-ha, because nobody knew how to adjust the settings? We discovered when people don't know how to put in the settings, when they leave the shop, chances are they won't set it anymore, unless they have a very good friend who really knows what to do. And very few people have one. 

“So we decided that when they purchase this, it would already be working as they leave the shop – for their email and for their GPRS Internet.” Little wonder then that since its launch last September the O2 xda has seen good sales.  

“We sold a few thousand units, and sales are growing on a monthly basis. It is doing extremely well, better that what I had expected,” enthused Ng.  

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