Can we have more phone-less handheld computing?
Not so long ago we had Personal Digital Assistants, PDAs. I owned a couple of the later ones, a Toshiba Pocket PC and a Palm TX. PDAs started as companion devices to keep you organized, but eventually their operating systems became advanced enough that they expanded functionality to include media players, games, and web browsers. These started merging with cell phones, and now we have the smartphone revolution, where our ever-connected, pocketable devices can do pretty much anything we want them to.
Leading the pack, at least in terms of consumer appeal, is Apple’s iPhone. However, they keep updating their “mp3 player”, the iPod Touch, to be feature-complete with the iPhone. It offers a low-cost, low-commitment entry point into the world of handheld computing. It’s essentially the modern incarnation of a PDA. The iPod touch sells incredibly well. And why wouldn’t it? It has no competition.
The former heavy hitters of the handheld computer have abandoned it for phone-only versions. Palm (HP now) and Microsoft have two great operating systems that could very well compete with the iPod Touch. Just strip the phone apps from WebOS and Windows Phone 7, and there you go. Instant iPod Touch competitors. Worse yet, why is there no Android-based iPod Touch equivalent (aside from the Archos players, but those are pretty big, not really pocketable)? You don’t even have to pay a license fee to make one of those. So why are all these companies letting Apple take the whole market?
I have no idea.
First of all, there’s the whole smartphone-less (for now) youth market (kids and especially teens). Let’s face it, the Nintendo DS and the PSP have their fingers far, far from the pulse of where the handheld gaming. Their upcoming, single-purpose, portable gaming consoles will retail for more than the cost of an iPod Touch. Then, of course, they expect you to pay at least $40 per game. You know how many iOS games you can buy for forty dollars? Infinity, give or take. I could write a whole post on how much they’re screwing this up, but I digress. The point is the iPod touch can entertain the youth (and adults, myself included) with games, but not only that, it has a metric ton of social networking apps, web browser, YouTube, etc. It’s a cheap, starter “computer” for all intents and purposes. So let’s say kids gravitate towards iOS. A few years from now, when they’re all grown up and it’s time for a smartphone, what do you think they’re going to want? I’m pretty sure it’s going to be the OS in which they already have all their games on and are used to. It works the same way Microsoft gets students to use Office. Later, when they go into the work force it’s all they know how to use, thus what they need.
That’s what gets me, Microsoft knows this trick. Get them while they’re young. Yet here they are, wasting a huge market. They already have the most popular console gaming ecosystem with Xbox Live and the Xbox 360. Windows Phone 7 (WP7) has Xbox Live functionality. It’s simple logic, really. Use Xbox Live as a Trojan horse to get the youth on a phone-less WP7 device! Hell, I’d buy one. Achievements are magically delicious, you know. That brings me to my second point, I’d really like a secondary “entertainment” device. Like I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t really think the whole games/music/movies on my phone is all that great until we get some real leaps in battery technology. Smartphone batteries barely last a day as it is, let alone if they have to satisfy your Angry Birds and Netflix streaming addictions.
The “handheld-computing/entertainment-device that’s not a phone” has a lot of potential, but no one seems to care. Can we fix this now please? I really want to get a nice little smart device for gaming and MP3 player use, instead of these ridiculous 3DS and NGP consoles.