Convergence is for the Birds

There’s an article over on Slashdot asking [if the Personal (Digital Data) Assistant (PDA) is dead]( with the recent abdication of the PDA market by Sony. I will now paraphrase the sentiment of the majority of the comments on the thread: Good. convergence devices like my Danger Hiptop are awesome and should replace both PDAs and phones.

I was once a big fan of the idea of convergence. Back when the Handspring Treo was still a year from release, I thought it was the greatest idea ever. I couldn’t wait to toss my palm and my phone and replace them with a single, integrated device. But around the time the Treo was released and I was reading all of the horrible reviews, my mind changed completely.

Around the same time the first Treo was released, a new technology called Bluetooth began to get some press. The idea behind Bluetooth is simple: communication between different, nearby devices in meaningful ways. By utilizing short-range, low-powered, frequency-hopping radio packet technology, Bluetooth allows your gadgets to talk to one another when it was appropriate. The new-fangled term for this was “Personal Area Network”, meaning it was a network of devicies just around your personage. The lightbulb came on, and convergence died as a way to reach my goals.

These days, when fully loaded, I carry around a Palm Tungsten T in one pocket, a Sony Ericsson T68i phone in my other pocket, and my laptop (with a TDK Systems Bluetooth PCMCIA card) stuffed in my backpack. All three of these devices talk to one another with Bluetooth. My palm hotsyncs wirelessly over Bluetooth. When my phone rings, and the laptop is nearby, the computer asks me if I would like to use the PC speakers and microphone as a headset for the incoming call. If I am out working in the park, I can get a connection to the Internet via my phone over the Bluetooth connection. I can do the same thing with my Palm and chat on IRC or check my email whenever I choose. When I am browsing Vindigo on my Palm, and I see a place Hedda and I would like to eat dinner, I can tap on the hyperlinked phone number, and the Palm dials my phone over Bluetooth. These are things I do every day.

If you own a Danger or a Pocket PC phone, you’re probably thinking, “Oh yea, I can do that stuff to.” Except for maybe the laptop stuff. Oh, and if I am going out to a club or something, I don’t have to lug around my organizer. I can just shove my much smaller phone in my pocket. Oh, and when I’m talking on the phone, it doesn’t look like I’m talking into a 1000-page paperback book.

To me, the personal-area network idea is about letting each device be good at what it is. A Pocket PC phone is a good Pocket PC, but it kinda sucks as a phone. A Symbian phone like the P900 is a good phone, but sucks to use as a PDA. But my phone is a kick-ass phone, and my Palm is a kick-ass PDA, and best of all, they aren’t afraid of a little three-way action with my laptop! I can seperate and combine them at will, and it all just works. Each gadget is good at what it was designed to be good at without sacrificing functionality, size, battery life, etc. in order to merge it with some other device.