PDAs in the iPod era

O2 XDA II miniThere’s been an interesting discussion going on over at Slashdot titled “Why Have PDAs Failed In The iPod Era?

As you can imagine, opinions abound. As I’ve got a personl interest in why my PDA won’t do things I need it to the way I need it to that would make my life better, which I’ve written about in a paper about mobile technologies for people with a disability (PDF), and made reference to in the blog post “PDA keyboard woes“, I took a look.

Summary: Build a PDA/Phone and sell it with a fully functioning access device as an integrated unit.

First, the question:

Posted by Zonk on Friday October 21, @06:52PM
from the my-palm-she-is-dead dept.
mikejz84 writes “As the owner of a PocketPC PDA I am a very happy camper, with wifi internet access, Skype Voip, video playback, and of course the ubiquitous mp3 playback. In an era were everyone seems to talk about the Video iPod, and the next generation of mobile devices, it leaves me wondering – I already have all those abilities in a PDA that costs about as much as an iPod. My question for Slashdot: Given that modern PDAs have almost all the functionality of these separate devices, how has Palm and Microsoft/PocketPC developers failed in making PDAs a force in this new era of portable media devices? It is the poor marketing, bad media apps, public perception, or do people simply not want an all-in-one for mobile media?”

Here’s a couple interesting points I thought about.

1. Why can’t I buy *just a phone*?

Part of the appeal of the IPods is that they do what they do *well*. Interface, and sound quality.

Certainly that’s true of the Ipod… And it must be easier to get a device to do one major thing well than many things.

An observation about he interface point. In my experience and listening to others talk about their PDAs, one of the functions that let the PDA/Phone side down is how you talk on the phone using a PDA. Holding a PDA to your ear is clumsy. Even though I can’t physically do it, at times I’ve had someone do it for me and it’s rarely been successful. Often I’ve met people who just couldn’t either get their Bluetooth earphone to work consistently and have ditched it, or because of the unweildly experience have elected to buy a seperate phone and a PDA without a phone the next time they purchased one.

It could be argued this is a connectivity issue, but I think that when one of the functions a device provides (like the phone in a PDA) is outside the physical context of what traditionally provides that function (a telephone handset) by virtue of physical design of the device, the interface must be considered to extend beyond the actual device. So in the case of a PDA/Phone, a Bluetooth connected communication device needs to be considered as part of the device overall. The actaul PDA and the way it’s accessed needs designing as a whole.

If Apple made a PDA/Phone, I bet they wouldn’t just stop at the PDA. This concept can be seen in the recent release of the iMac G5 and in particular Front Row. They didn’t just create the device and the software and say ‘well, there you go, make a remote to use it’, they made a remote that looks, feels and operates the way they wanted it to in conjuntion with Front Row and the iMac. It’s an integrated approach and gives consistency of the ‘Apple experience’. (And no, I don’t work for Apple, work with Macs or own a Mac … but I’m open to offers!)

This is partly borne out by this comment in the discussion:

2. Simply put, PDA’s lack the battery life and storage capabilities of the ipod.

So to make it clear: PDA’s fail because they have the features (poorly developed) but not the infrastructure.

Give me a PocketPC PDA, with an IBM or Toshiba 20 gig microdrive, with a battery that not only promises but actually has an 8 hour+ battery life in media playback, with the same price as the ipod and i would litteraly trash my ipod and buy it right now.

While this comment is in the context of battery life and storage (a subject I have no comment on) I think the line about features being poorly developed is too true. And in addition, all the features in the world are not goning to be worth a damn if they’re too difficult to use.

Front Row-http://www.apple.com/imac/frontrow.html
Quoted comments- Cali Thalen (627449) & bmgoau (801508)

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