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 Monday, June 03, 2002

For those of us who use both a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) and a mobile phone, the Holy Grail is a single integrated device. I've always wondered which side of the market would drive convergence of devices. On the one hand, the Palm OS and Windows Pocket PC devices have slick intuitive user interfaces with thousands of applications. On the other hand, the market clout and distribution channels of the major mobile handset manufacturers (e.g., Nokia, Motorola, Ericsson) suggested they could eventually dominate. So I kept my eye out for the perfect personal device hoping that this would suggest which sector would eventually be in the driver's seat. When Ericsson released their R380 smartphone, based on the Symbian platform and an innovative new form factor, I thought this might be a winner. Ericsson kindly lent to me one of the first versions but I finally put it aside. Despite its definite coolness factor it was still too large to comfortably carry around, somewhat too fragile and the software crashed too often. Later, when Handspring announced their Treo communicator and I read some glowing reviews, I thought this might be my perfect device. However, after seeing and handling one I still wasn't convinced. Something still wasn't quite right.

I had noticed during my trips to Asia that handsets in those markets are small, beautifully made and often hang around necks on cords - they're more like fashion accessories than phones. Slowly, it's been dawning on me that the perfect personal device is more about form factor and quality than anything. Last year, I was in Stockholm and met with Göran Skyttval, Ericsson's Director of 2G and 3G Terminals and Applications. I explained to him the "quality" problems I had experienced with my R380 and we got onto the general topic of quality in manufacturing as well as specifically with respect to handsets. Interestingly, Göran had just come back from a stint in Japan where he was in charge of Ericsson's i-mode handset development for the Japanese market. Now anyone who has had to do business in Japan knows that the average Japanese consumer is very demanding about quality, packaging and design. In fact, many companies have had to completely redesign and repackage their products for the Japanese market. Göran discussed with me these Japanese concepts of quality and demonstrated subtle differences such as in the texture of materials. He explained how he was trying to introduce these higher standards into Ericsson's handset manufacturing. Subsequent to our meeting, Sony and Ericsson combined their handset manufacturing and marketing.

This is a round-about way to say that I think I've experienced directly the results of Göran's efforts. My latest personal device, the Sony Ericsson T39m, is beautifully made, synchronizes with my contact list and calendar in Outlook/Exchange, provides GSM tri-band support, has a POP3 email client, T9 predictive text input, Bluetooth, GPRS, a long-life battery, and best of all, it has a small and elegant form factor which just feels right. It fits in any pocket and really is the first device that I don't mind having with me anywhere, anytime. So the T39m has my vote as the current perfect personal device. Bravo to Ericsson.