news / tech talk

Mobile Telephony

by Lee LeClair
As seen in Inside Tucson Business

Mobile telephony devices are moving closer to convergence with mobile computing. Modern mobile telephones like Blackberrys, Treo, and the iPhone have already larger taken over the personal electronic organizer from the likes of Palm. Now the convergence has assimilated mp3 music playing functionality and even limited video playback of TV shows. Advanced devices now support wireless LAN connectivity, email and web browsing and Instant Messaging through mobile phone carrier’s data networks, and multiple types of telephone-specific messaging like SMS (Short Message Service) and MMS (Multimedia Message Service).

Teens and young adults have lead the way on new (to the US) services like SMS and have driven many parents to communicate through SMS as the primary method to get a response from their children. MMS simply provides a way to pass richer than text messages that include pictures, sounds, and videos. Blackberrys have been a corporate status symbol and slave chain to executives for the past 2-3 years. Consumer-centric versions of the principle have now penetrated mainstream America for the text-heavy phone user.

As has become the norm, Apple’s iPhone has broken a consumer barrier by adding style to the formerly dull functions of browsing, texting, and email of typical multi-function smart phones. Although the iPhone is exclusive to AT&T wireless, the designer looks combined with Apple’s excellent User Interface sensibilities have created huge in-roads to the consumer market. I had tried early versions of the smart phone phenomenon a few years ago but left the rather large and clunky devices of that time to a simple, very small, single-use mobile phone. I was happy with my choice for over two years but with my contract ended and my poor phone battered and nearly broken, I recently ventured back to smart phone territory again.

They are smaller now and Bluetooth headset technology has improved. Also, the carrier data networks are better though still in transition to something really useful. Nevertheless, I have been underwhelmed so far. Browsing is possible but it’s still slow and difficult to read because of the screen size (I give the iPhone points for its interface and readability). Email use is improved. For me, the jury is out on the music player function as I still use an iPod shuffle as my primary music player because it’s tiny and simple. I had high hopes for “tethering” and using my mobile phone to connect my laptop from wherever but so far, it hasn’t come up. Honestly, I do not hold high hopes for how well it will work assuming I can figure it out if the speed of browsing with the mobile browser is any indication. As for wireless, my mobile device reads wireless signal strength very poorly (I show one bar on my mobile though my laptop shows five). While I find SMS useful for send-and-forget messaging, Instant Messaging takes too much interactive work, I’d just as soon make a call and get it over with.

I know I’m late to this game overall. If you own or operate a business, you probably have already experimented with these types of technologies. I certainly see Star Trek style headsets more or less permanently attached to people of all ages and all places and times. To me, the difficulty is still in trying to get the ergonomics and usability balanced with size. Data network speeds are not quite there yet across most of America but it will come. In the meantime, tiny sub-notebooks like the Asus Eee PC are filling in the gap between still-too-big laptops and still-too-small mobile phones. Maybe the real answer still hasn’t arrived yet.

Lee Le Clair is the CTO at Ephibian. His Tech Talk column appears the third week of each month in Inside Tucson Business