Saturday, June 25, 2011

Something I Wrote 10 Years Ago

Something I wrote 10 years ago, in a comment on the website of usability guru Jakob Nielsen's. Very interesting to look back, and see where I was way off-base (cell phone's only purpose is voice!), and the areas where I was closer to the mark (PDA size about right; battery-life concerns).

Merge PDA and Phone or Keep Separate?

Erik L. Neu writes:
I am a Palm user. I have read any number of columns recently predicting the demise of the Palm/PDA in favor of cell phone internet access. I think this is ridiculous! The form-factor of the Palm, though great for what it does, is already enough of a usability challenge. I make an analogy between the Palm and a laptop. For the most part, the form factor of the laptop was established nearly a decade ago. Rather than getting smaller, they stay the same size, with more power, functionality and screen area being crammed in the same space. I think the Palm size is about right, it fits reasonably comfortably in the pocket. Now we need the useable screen to expand to fill the footprint of the machine.
As for the cell phone, it has one purpose: voice conversations. So smaller is always better. I would never want to take my Palm jogging, but I just might (usually not, but it is conceivable) want to take my cell phone with me on my run. I am amazed at how small they have gotten already. Besides not being usable, cramming PDA features in them will interfere with this design goal.
Longer-term, yes it would be nice if the cell-phone functionality can reside in the PDA. But I don't see this as being desirable with today's technology--it's not that big a hardship to carry two devices, esp. given the shrinking size of the phone. Plus, their battery-life styles are in conflict--people will be forever finding their PDA out of juice after 2 hours of phone conversation! 
Jakob's reply: Completely agree that we need to recapture the entire surface of the Palm Pilot for screen space. One of the things done right on the Pocket PC. 
I tend to prefer a single, converged device that will be both a PDA and a telephone, especially since the PDA will need to connect to the cellular network anyway in order to get live data. However, as you noted, there is also much to be said in favor of separate devices that can be optimized for their individual features.

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