There’s been a lot of excitement in the air lately about how smartphones are supposed to change the mobile world as we knew it until now.

Simple plan: take the best PDA, take the best mobile phone, melt them together, rely on Moore’s law to get it down to an acceptable size, and there you have it: the ultimate mobile device of the 21st century!

Ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce you to THE DEVICE: mobile phone, PDA, mp3 player, voice recorder, digital still & video camera, GPS, Gameboy, calculator, exchange rate converter, remote controller for your appliances… all in one and bundled with a wireless headset or stereo headphones!

Yeah Right…

Now, if you have been reading my weblog in French, you know I’ve been ranting about this for a while; but since this is my first post on Mobitopia, let me try to explain in English why this ultimate smartphone vision sounds like nonsense to me… Actually, I could put it into two single words:


Yes! Regardless of how fast chip makers can integrate the technology, you definitely don’t want to use the same-sized device for everything, and in particular as a phone and as a PDA!


Even if you own a wireless headset! You cannot expect people (well, at least the non-geek population ;) to wear it all the time! Most of the time, the phone rings and you just have to pick it up, optionally check who’s calling, accept the call and hold the device to your ear so you can listen and talk… And there’s a maximum size to the device over which you don’t want to hold it against your head! Think about those large Tréos… Don’t you think they’ve crossed the line?

I bet people will continue to use phones that way for… quite a long time… probably until someone makes that Star-Trek-style-hands-free-high-quality-audio-communication a reality ;)

Moreover, you want to be able to use your phone with one hand, since there are plenty of situations where you just can’t afford a second one ;) Like walking in the street carrying a suitcase or whatever… Here again, there is a maximum size to the device you can hold and operate with one hand while walking in the street!

Given that size factor, manufacturers have come up with some pretty ingenious solutions like T9 for single handed text entry! But still…


First thing, you cannot actually rely on T9 for serious text entry! T9 is cool… for SMS! But not for taking notes! Not for updating a spreadsheet! (Remember a phone keyboard is not even as complete as a numeric keypad! It has no keys for + - / * . etc.) Actually, T9 gets exponentially boring with the length of the text to be typed!

So what? Add a stylus? P800 style? Sure it gets better… but if Palm, long time supporter of Grafitti starts building keyboards into their PDAs, there’s a serious reason: users DO WANT a keyboard for text entry! (I was able to cope with Grafitti, but well… have to admit it remains slower/harder than with a keyboard…)

But keep that stylus anyway, you do need it to move appointments! Do you really believe you could beat a stylus drag & drop with some sophisticated smart phone jog-dial or joystick interface ? ;)

Okay, so the keyboard alone makes the device too big for a decent phone (don’t ask me about the Tréo again! ;) but there’s more!

At this point, I think we all agree that the PDA is a device designed to be used with both hands, don’t we? So why not make it a little larger? Any pocket could carry a PDA somewhat larger than current Palms for example!

Sony has opened the way with some of their Cliés… But still, PDA Screens are destined to grow larger!

Actually, it is the only way out if they want to keep a real advantage on those smartphones!

Yes! You DO WANT a larger screen to read ebooks in the train! You DO WANT a larger screen to edit spreadsheets! You DO WANT a larger screen to surf the web!!! Admit it, I KNOW YOU ALL DO! :) Also, think about games, think about watching pictures or movies! Get the point? :)

A screen approximately 1.5 times larger and 1.5 times higher than current standard PDA screens would offer 2 to 2.5 times more display space and still fit seamlessly in your pocket! I’m talking about real size here, not about increasing resolution (which is important too but it’s another story…) Ironically, the only pocket device having that kind of screen today, is the eBookman from Franklin… which remains pretty confidential…

So here we are: a phone is better small and one hand operated and a PDA is better with a large screen and a (also large) keyboard! This is why I think those two devices need to remain two separate entities… communicating via Bluetooth! What would we have Bluetooth for elseway? ;) As a matter of fact, the PDA needs network access from the phone! And, of course, you could not stand having two separate address books!

Regarding all the other gadgets (camera, mp3 player, etc…), they can be integrated in one or the other device… doesn’t really matter… the data will wirelessly flow anyway!

By the way, if a third standalone device was to be introduced in your PDG (Personal Digital Gear), consider a Bluetooth hard drive: literally gigabytes of data you can carry in your suitcase or the trunk of your car… (I’m thinking about my mp3 collection right now ;)

Now… of course I don’t think everyone in this world needs a full featured PDA (nor to carry around gigabytes of data)! Actually, those people who had no need for a PDA until now will be pleased with an enhanced phone that integrates PDA-like features. But those who have been using PDAs extensively will probably never be satisfied with an all in one smartphone!

So, of course, smartphones as an evolution of the mobile phone are not doomed (just wanted to get your attention! ;) but smartphones as a merger of the mobile phone and the PDA (and priced that way!) are definitely doomed!

Comments from long ago:

Comment from: fplanque: IT world

Nokia 770: finally a decent mobile browser!

Russ thinks, Nokia’s latest 770 Internet Tablet doesn’t make much sense in today’s market.

Well, I think it does!

And that’s because “smartphones are doomed” ! :P And these Nokia guys know it! :P

Okay well, I wrote this split up theory be…

2005-05-26 16-18

Comment from: The Mobile Phone Deals Man

You have a good point… when im looking for a phone an want to slip it into my pocket and i don’t want to know that its there until i need it. I think alot of people feel the same. Don’t they ?


2007-07-21 15-29

Comment from: BC

Old message. Do you still think its actual?

2007-10-06 13-06

Comment from: François Planque

Hum… I still have to try out the iPhone in a real world situation. It sure looks good both as a phone and a PDA… but then again, how much of that is due to the Steve Distortion Effect?

2007-10-06 14-52

Comment from: PB

Why can’t I get an AT&T Tilt with an iPhone-size and resolution display?

2007-12-07 20-28

Comment from: garminetrexstore

I stopped toting my PDA. It has hand writing recognition, by I found it nearly impossible to take note quickly. Getting a tablet pc for Christmas. “SHOULD” be easier to take notes on, but the weight just bites.

2007-12-12 21-33

Comment from: dexton7

I’m a computer technician, and I’ve been looking for a smartphone that I can enter notes into quickly and be able to sync up to the PC. So far I haven’t found any ‘good’ alternative to the Zire72 Silver that I’ve been using since forever. I now use graffiti faster than anyone I know typing on their smartphones.

For a cell phone I use a Motorola c139 GoPhone with a custom headset. Yeah I know.. gophone - woopie. But I get 10 hours of talk time on a charge and excellent reception (plus if it breaks - I take the sim chip out, throw the phone away, and grab another one off the shelf for $15.

Primitive for a comp tech I know, but it works well for me so far. If the Iphone has a factory stylus, double the battery life and decent note taking apps, I would convert…

2008-11-17 09-25

Comment from: Keith

Very good points. Another issue with these all-in-one tools is why pay for everything when you might only need a couple of its tools? Some company should have a Dell-like service in which you can customize the “phone”, only containing the features you want.

2009-08-27 21-35

Comment from: Jeff

Haha you were SO wrong.

2010-01-31 21-28

Comment from: ayden

No matter how many gadgets PDA’s can have, I still stay with my beloved smartphone. It’s quite small in size and functional enough to be perfect for me. What about the price? Oh well comfort is priceless ;)

2010-05-05 10-09

Comment from: Graphic Design Brisbane

I am not sure….I agree with the Author I think you need more then just a smart phone.

2010-08-18 08-59

Comment from: Lookin’Back!

Wow! I felt like I was in back in a 1950s show where they talk about homes and cars of the future! You were so very wrong! We are talking less than a decade! Things change so fast and capabilities as we know are changing at amazing speeds. It is almost impossible to make accurate predictions for even 1 year in advance! Especially, when talking about what consumers will want/need! I do have to say though, your thoughts were sound for the time and I had similar ideals about phones and pda’s too. At the moment I would like a nice tablet/smartphone hybrid about 7 inches would suffice and would like two bluetooth headsets, one for stereo sound on the slopes that easily toggles between my phone and and my ski patrol FCC radio and one for daily use that has a simple screen to screen calls and possibly even send voice texts that is always in my pocket and/or can pop in/out of my tablet/smartphone. Am I asking for too much??? Let’s revisit this one next year! LOL When are screens can be rolled up and unfolded to big sizes!!! They will be here soon! But then again who knows!

2011-01-13 04-18

Comment from: James

I take it you have been either living under a rock, or this post is mega old (e.g. at least 5 years old).

I have not heard a T9 rant nor ‘stylus’ rant in over 4 years because they are dead / dying now, capacitive touch screens have destroyed the resistive and the QWERTY the T9.

2011-01-18 12-23

Comment from: graphic design services

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2011-02-13 01-32