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WiFi spells opportunity for handset makers

February 1, 2005

RIM BlackBerry 7100t plus sign Wi-Fi Certified logo equals sign US twenty dollar bill

eWeek’s article “Three Smart (Phone) Moves” is an interesting look at some of the latest gadgets from the MS Smartphone (Motorola MPx220), Palm OS (PalmOne Treo 650), and J2ME (RIM BlackBerry 7100t) gadget camps.

It’s most interesting to me because in reading the intertwined reviews of the devices, it’s obvious they’re all missing a tremendous opportunity: The first consumer oriented WiFi smartphone will sell like hot cakes!

As eWeek calmly intones:

None of the devices we tested features a Wi-Fi radio…PalmOne and others will have to address this limitation, particularly as Wi-Fi availability and use broadens.

I’m much more emphatic about the need for WiFi in a smartphone now. Nokia 9500 is a start, but it’s more enterprise focused and too expensive (heck, my new Toshiba laptop cost $100 less after rebates!) for widespread consumer adoption. Meanwhile consumers are ready to adopt. Home wireless gear has fallen into the tens of dollars and many people are realizing the advantages of not having to drill holes through their walls and run cables. Businesses see the same advantages, not just for internal networks but increasingly as a draw for customers to linger a little longer and spend a little more money while they do (my favorite WiFi enabled linger spot: Panera Bread). VoIP is also catching on with consumers, and could work wonders on a WiFi equipped handset.

Perhaps most telling of the opportunity is the fact that both the Nintendo DS and the Sony PlayStation Portable (PSP) handhelds, game devices but also much much more, use WiFi as their main network interface. Let me call careful attention to this for all you handset makers out there:

The main data path for both next gen mobile game systems worldwide is WiFi. Not ethernet. Not USB. Not cellular. Not Bluetooth.

In fact, Sony even seems to be preparing a music download service a la Apple’s iTunes Music Store. Just imagine all of the music soon to be downloaded over WiFi-to-PSP that could instead be WiFi-to-cellpod purchases. There’s money to be made here too for carriers who can see beyond the air interfaces that tend to blind them to the importance of optimized end-to-end services for their subscribers.

The opportunity is on the table before us. Give me a shout if you’d like to discuss this further.

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One Comment
  1. Ravi permalink

    Note that hacked Treos (including 650s, I think) can use a WiFi SD card. The main objection at this point is battery life, as I recall. I’d hope that PalmOne is working on that for the Treo 700.

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