June 10th, 2005 Comments Off on Mobility

As my (nano-)company grows, so do my needs for data mobility. I often need to manage my server, read and send e-mails, and fix problems in pages and Web applications when I’m away from my office or from my home.

Since I’m not yet read to buy a notebook (various reasons for that including price, size, security and transportation), I opted for a smaller solution: a handheld and an Internet-enabled cell phone.

Since I already owned a Tungsten E, which doesn’t include Bluetooth, I had to choose a cell phone with IrDA support to be able to connect the Palm to the Internet through it when I’m on the road. I first thought about buying a Siemens CX65, which looked nice, but ended buying a Nokia 6600, which I found for an excellent price.

The 6600 is much better than the CX65, of course. Since it’s a smartphone, running Symbian, it’s able to do many of the things my Palm does. But I found redundancy is interesting when I’m not willing to carry both devices to a given place. Also, some applications work better in the Palm while others are better in the 6600. For example, PuTTY, my favorite SSH client, is available for the 6600 but not for the Palm.

(By the way, nothing as cool as getting phoned by a client, logging into the server via the cell phone itself while you’re talking to him, solving his problem, and notifying him of the solution immediately. All that while you are in route to a meeting.)

The result of this combination, surprisingly, is a good mix of flexibility and mobility. The devices are small, and easy to carry. Although they use enough power to require daily recharges (both use memory cards, which seem to drain colossal amounts of power), I had never had a problem with one of they dying on me in the midst of the day.

The biggest problem with such portable devices, in my opinion, is that inputting text quickly is still hard. It’s the only way in which the reduced size of the devices is a hindrance, rather than a blessing.

In the cell phone, you are limited to the predictive input system available to it. Nokia’s T9 is good (not as good as Motorola’s I-TAP, though) and as the 6600 runs a real OS, copying, pasting, and general editing is relatively easy. The 6600 is also bigger than a normal cell phone which allows me to use both hands to input data. But there’s always the occasional problem with applications that don’t follow the system’s conventions and switching between two languages, as I often do, it’s still a pain.

On the Palm side, handwriting recognition is the best option, and, with a little practice, you can write as fast as you would do when writing with pen and paper. But when you need to edit bigger documents, handwriting is not fast enough. I’m now thinking about buying a foldable keyboard for the Palm, although that will mean I’ll need to carry yet another device.

With both the Palm and the 6600, I can do almost everything I can do in the office: send and receive e-mails, browse (internet-banking, news, RSS, etc), edit documents (text documents, spreadsheets, and presentations), keep a to-do list and a calendar, remotely access my server, read e-books, do instant messaging, control my finances, and so on. I can even use the Palm as a multimedia and platform, listening to music and audio books, and watching videos.

Unfortunately, GPRS connection speeds are still very slow—less than 56kpbs most the time—and the price is still a bit high. As far as I know, none of the cell phone companies in my city offers an unlimited access plan.

But the market is clearly evolving, and this kind of combination is becoming very common from what I’m seeing here.

A couple weeks ago, I listened to an ad by a cell phone company offering a service that listens to a song through your cell phone, and returns a text message identifying the song. A couple years ago, I heard that was being offered in Europe, and it’s interesting to see it finally being offered here. It’s means our market is maturing, which is also corroborated by the number of advanced cell phones being now sold here, including smartphones and GSM/EDGE-enabled phones, with better connection speeds.

A growing market for smartphones may reduced the market for handhelds, and Palm seems to be preparing itself for that eventuality with offerings like the Treo. The cell phone screens keep growing better, programs are being developed, and, with a bit more effort, the problem of inputting data quickly can be solved. Nokia seems to be working feverishly on the problem, as demonstrated by the various input systems of its new phone models.

All in all, despite the limitations, the Palm and 6600 combination is literally saving my life, allowing me to keep informed about my company situation at all times, and allowing me to solve problems anytime, anywhere. If the technology gets a little better, I may even dump my office desktop.

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