1 THE ALL-IN-ONE THINGUMAJIG
By Paul Taylor Copyright; The Financial Times Limited 2012. You may share using our article tools. Please don’t cut articles from FT.com and redistribute by email or post to the web.
Long before there were gizmos, gadgets and widgets, there were “thingumajigs”. My father was always trying to buy a thingumajig, usually to repair our ageing Ford Popular or some broken household device. According to one web dictionary definition, a thingumajig is “something whose name is either forgotten or not known”. Like any period of rapid change and technological development, the digital era we live in is full of new thingumajigs, many of them converged devices that defy easy classification. The HTC Advantage (also known as the Athena or T-Mobile Ameo in Europe, and as the Dopod U1000 or HTC X7500) is one such device. Founded 10 years ago, Taiwanbased HTC (High Tech Computer) has carved out a niche as one of the most innovative developers of Windows-based mobile devices. Among its recent product launches, the HTC Touch smartphone beat Apple’s iPhone to market with a cool touch-screen interface. But the HTC Advantage, built around Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6, takes the concept of portable PC/mobile phone convergence to the next level. The HTC Advantage, which costs $799 in the US (and about £610 in the UK), is part 3G mobile phone, part handheld PDA (personal digital assistant), part ultramobile PC and part mini-laptop – but it does not quite fit any of these categories. Historically, converged portable devices that are not exactly one thing or another have not been a great success. HTC, however, and a small group of other mobile handset manufacturers, are betting that consumers, and particularly business users, are ready to embrace them at last. Nokia recently launched its second-generation Linux-based N800 Internet Tablet, and Palm ‘s Foleo, a “smartphone companion” device, will be available this year. The latter, like the HTC Advantage, is designed to make mobile messaging and web access easier than with a traditional mobile phone. Both devices share some of the characteristics of UMPCs (ultra-mobile PCs) such as Samsung’s Q1 Ultra and Sony’s Vaio UX Series VGN-UX390N. But they are significantly cheaper than full-function Windows XP or Vista-based micro-mobile PCs such as OQO’s Model 02, which costs about $1,900 (about £1,075 in the UK), or the $2,000 FlipStart 1 from FlipStart Labs ( not yet available in the UK). Unlike any of these, the HTC Advantage owes at least as much to mobile telephony as it does to portable or, more specifically, handheld computing and that, arguably, gives it a crucial advantage: easy connectivity.2 It is designed to be an “always connected” device via its built-in tri-band UMTS/HSDPA cellular data connection, quad-band GSM/GPRS/Edge radio, Bluetooth 2.0 short-range wireless connection or wi-fi networking link. That means you can use it for both voice and data calls almost anywhere. I was particularly impressed with the speed of AT&T’s HSDPA network for web browsing. Just as importantly, the HTC Advantage is easy to use. I was able to pop in a Sim card, configure the networking options and get online in minutes. In design terms, the HTC Advantage is unique. It comprises a main module built round a 5in touch-screen, an 8GB hard drive, 128MB of Ram, a mini-SD (secure digital) card slot for memory expansion and for loading multimedia content, and a 3Mp (megapixel) digital camera sensor. A slim qwerty-style keyboard attaches to the main module by a magnetic connection. The pocket-sized screen and keyboard components weigh about 12oz with battery installed. When the keyboard is attached, screen and module are held at an angle like an open laptop, although I found the angle awkward for desktop viewing and two-finger typing. Nevertheless, the touch screen (and stylus) and a conveniently positioned navigation stick make moving around the screen and scrolling easy. A VGA out port lets users plug in a full-sized monitor. Of course the hardware is just part of the story. Because it runs Windows Mobile 6, the HTC Advantage includes a mobile version of Microsoft Outlook, stripped-down versions of Word and Excel, and a pocket Internet Explorer. I have not been a fan of earlier versions of Microsoft’s mobile operating system, but Windows Mobile 6 feels solid and reliable. Sensibly, HTC built satellite navigation technology into the HTC. My review model came with TeleNav’s latest GPS software, which turns the device into a solid, free-standing or handheld navigation device – particularly useful for the out-of-town business traveller. For me, the ultimate test of any converged device is whether it performs well enough to persuade me to leave standalone devices at home. I am not sure I would swap my ultra-lightweight laptop for the HTC Advantage on a long trip that was likely to involve typing more than a few e-mails. For a short trip or a commute, however, the Advantage, with its 3G data and web access capability, is a real alternative. Similarly, while the HTC Advantage operates adequately as a basic mobile phone, you really do need to use a wired or Bluetooth headset instead of relying on the builtin microphone and speaker. I suspect that most users would still want to carry a regular mobile phone or BlackBerry-style device for voice calls and corporate emails. QUESTION What reason can you give for the lack of success of converged technological devices?
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