I spent some time last week at the AlwaysOn Innovation Summit. After listening to Eric Benhamou, Chairman of Palm, give an extended commercial for his company, I wandered around the sponsor tables and found myself, like any good device geek, lingering around the AT&T Wireless and Palm tables. I got to play with the new Palm devices that attempt to converge PDA functionality with telephony. And I played with similar devices at AT&T's table, including new handhelds from Nokia, RIM, Siemens, etc.
I could spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the various models of converged devices but others have already done a more exhaustive job of that than I possibly could. But I will say this for the idea of convergence -- it may be the impossible dream. As I spent time talking with the folks from Palm and AT&T Wireless, it was very clear that they were trying to pitch devices that were everything for everyone. The ultimate design goal appears to be to build a device that is the perfect PDA, Phone, PIM and wireless browser in one (recently that feature lists seems to have expanded to include camera as well). But the more time I spend with these converged devices, the more convinced I am that this is not the appropriate design goal.
I believe that the appropriate goal for converged device manufacturers is to build devices that are optimized for a specific use and then provide as much additional functionality as they reasonably can given the necessary tradeoffs to optimize for that particular use. Because, while we would all love to have a PDA, phone, PIM, Web browser in one, each of us prioritizes that functionality differently. When I got my first Treo, it became clear to me that I prioritized cell phone functionality over PDA functionality and since it was a decent PDA but an awful phone, I got rid of it. But I don't pretend to be the surrogate for anyone else. Others may be thrilled with the Treo because they want occasional phone functionality but strong PDA integration.
By virtue of screen and keyboard size requirements that are application driven, I do not believe that it is possible for portable devices to be all things to all people (at least not with the technology available today). But I do believe that it is possible to build a really great phone that has some decent additional PDA functionality or a really great PDA that has some decent PIM functionality, etc. And if designers start thinking along those lines, I suspect they will build some of the best devices available to date. If RIM or Nokia are listening, I would like a really great phone first and foremost, but that is also a PIM no larger than the pager sized blackberry, requires no headset to make or receive calls and converges PDA data with phone functionality for enhanced caller ID and speed dial. Now that I would buy.