Friday, August 20, 2004

Talkin' to my PDA before it was cool

The other morning as I drove to work I noticed a well dressed guy waiting for the bus talking on a dark blue cell phone. It wasn't the usual candy bar style or flip phone style, it was a blackberry, a little box roughly 3" x 5" x 3/4" with a big LCD screen and a QWERTY keyboard. I couldn't help but see the similarity to my old Visorphone which only comes out of hiding when I need to record my gas consumption or figure out a sheet metal bend allowance. Even then, it's without the phone module that was once my constant companion. I have mixed thoughts about that PDA. I can't deny that it was that gadget which hooked me on access to web and email everywhere I went. Pocket sized wireless internet is a very nice thing to have when you become accustomed to using it. At the same time, I became accustomed to making excuses for the device itself. "Sure it's big, but I can browse the web on it" or "Sure it's awkward, to talk on without a headset, but it's great for email." So for 2 or 3 years, I carried that biggish PDA around practically everywhere I went, enduring the occasional implication that I may not look entirely un-tool-like with my PDA on my belt at a party, baseball game, or even at work. Then it happened: they cut off my data. There was no explaination from the wireless carrier. It just stopped working. No longer did I have the powerful synergy of a wireless phone and a light-duty computer in one little box. I had a good organizer which doubled as a phone phone with a barely-audible ringer, poor sound quality from both the speaker and the microphone, short battery life and bad signal reception compared to even the chintziest phones. My "yeah but" had vanished and left me a geek disconnected form my data. Every time I used the phone I was shamed by the has-been gadget.

I had to do something. After all, I was still paying for service. If I had a cheap phone I could at least make clearer calls and hear the ringer when someone would call. I investigated phones with IR ports to connect to the PDA. I even investigated Bluetooth phone/PDA combos. In the end I chose to replace my "PDA that thinks it's a phone" with a "phone that thinks it's a PDA". I have to say, I like this better. As a phone, it's rather big by today's standards, but not un-pocketable. It does just about everything the PDA could do as well or better via software add-ons, and even had additional connectivity options. The only things I miss are the touch screen and the superior text entry. The text entry problem is handled surprisingly well by predictive text entry, however, and the lack of a touch screen actually helps to make it more durable (no matter how careful you are, drops do happen.) What I didn't really expect is the social effect. I'm not saying that I meet people using it, but instead, the phone affects the way people see me less than a PDA would. Why? Well, the more obvious reason is that it lives in my pocket instead of on my belt and only comes out when I need to use it. The less obvious reason is what it says about me. To the casual observer, a wireless PDA carrier/user looks like a workaholic who wants to be at the office, even when he's not or who can't escape the offic even when he wants to. The phone, on the other hand, makes much less of an impact as more and more people have phones these days. I'm no different than any other of the millions of people carrying cell phones. There are, of course, the technophobe types who take offense to cell phone use, but most just object to loud one sided conversations and would hardly notice the soft "plocka- plocka" of an email being typed, a URL being entered or a web site being navigated. The geek effect is mostly absent.

So what's the point, you say? Well, I guess the Blackberry has a strong following, judging by all of them I see around. I can't help but wonder, though, if these folks will ever get tired of holding those little tablets to their heads and they'll drop the crackberries and go with a smartphone. Once you have data, it's hard to go without.


Post a Comment

<< Home