A voice/data balancing act

Wednesday, March 24th, 2004

Mobile professional is target market for the cellphone/PDA

Jim Jamieson


Treo 600 is PalmOne’s idea of the right phone/PDA tradeoff.

CREDIT: CanWest News Service

Makers of so-called “smart phones” that combine a cellular phone and a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) have always attempted to tread a fine line between voice and data usability.

To varying degrees, most failed, getting the size or functionality skewed to favour one over the other.

You know the drill. It’s too much like a phone to support real data handling — the screen is too small or the keyboard is designed for mice to use.

Or it’s the other way around, with a nice, big screen but so wide that it feels like you’re talking into a brick when making a phone call.

Along these lines, PalmOne, the separate hardware maker that was created when Palm Inc. bought Handspring Inc. last year, is getting a lot of buzz over its first product since the merger — the Treo 600.

Palm’s reputation for an easy-to-use interface has made it the PDA market leader. PalmOne (Canada) general manager Michael Moskowitz said that was a key consideration in the design of the Treo 600.

“We’ve been trying to get a very easy user interface to balance voice and data,” he said in an interview. “They are very complicated things to get right.

“No one has really done it well. If you get smaller than this, you give up your keyboard or your screen. There’s always a tradeoff, but we think we’ve hit the right tradeoff.”

The Treo 600 features a wireless phone with a built-in QWERTY keyboard and touch-sensitive colour screen. Besides being a fully functioned PDA, with an organizer, messaging,

e-mail, and web-browsing capabilities, the Treo 600 also has plenty of value-added features.

It can play audio and video loaded on its Secure Digital memory card and it even has a built-in digital camera capable of taking and e-mailing low-resolution (0.3-megapixel) colour snapshots.

Although the QWERTY keyboard is small and might be a problem for those ham-handed of us, we found its domed-shaped keys provide enough tactile feel to make a difference. Each key also lights up when it is pressed, which is handy in dark or low-light conditions.

This Swiss-army-knife-like device also features a built-in speakerphone. But don’t think Palm’s concept is to just throw everything in but the kitchen sink. It’s all about function and usability, says Moskowitz.

“The user interface is really what drives this business,” he said. “Hardware will take you a certain point, the cool factor, the beauty, but that will only see you the first 2,000 units in this country. That’s the early adopter, but the second part is do people really like to use it?”

The target market for the Treo 600 is mobile professionals, not consumers, who wouldn’t be likely to invest $599.99 in a device that still requires a two-year voice and data service agreement. It’s available on the Rogers Wireless network.

© The Vancouver Province 2004

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