Sunday, September 18, 2005

Mobiles Part 2: Storage is the new connectivity

In the good old days, new generations of phones used to be driven by a new killer feature - full-graphic displays, games, WAP, GPRS, color screens, cameras... and until a few years ago, size. The Nokia 8210 was as small as they reasonably got, and now phones are bigger (though not too big to fit in the small jeans pocket). They are prettier, but they still don't have any new killer features.

Except now they do. Forget your SE Walkmans, and your Moto iTunes phones, and your five-megapixel LGs (which you are never fucking going to get in English-speaking countries, ever). The first phone to be released in the known world that possesses the prime killer feature, is the Samsung I300.

And its three-gigabyte hard drive.

What makes it a killer feature is the availability of digital entertainment. Digital audio players, including the iPod which I dislike but have to acknowledge, have put computerized music in the mainstream. Broadband and filesharing networks like BitTorrent have made downloadable video content popular. Everyone these days makes an mp3 player, but you ain't shit unless it plays MPEG4/DivX/XviD.

The Samsung I300 plays MPEG4. Ah well, the rest may come with new firmware.

The last bit of consumer electronics hype was connectivity - WiFi and Bluetooth, being able to surf the web whereever you go. This is the killer feature of smartphones, and I'm actually struggling to understand what's so smart about a smartphone other than the fact that it runs Opera.

OK, well, WiFi is out of the burst phase, and growing organically; more phones will get it in the future, but it's not quite widespread enough to provide total connectivity. The other technology is Bluetooth. Despite the application being painfully obvious, nobody has yet released a decent/affordable set of wireless headphones, although I've seen some early attempts at Gizmodo.

In fact the most useful thing about Bluetooth to date is that your phone connects to your car, and you can dial from the center console and hear people through the stereo system without pulling out your SIM card, which was the most ridiculous idea ever. The other option used to be a docking station, but the aftermarket ones were ugly, and the ones offered by manufacturers laughable - cars are designed years before they appear in showrooms, so your shiny new BMW may be optionally equipped with a Nokia 6120. At four times what the phone cost when it was introduced back in the Iron Age.

Bluetooth was actually designed to provide peripheral connectivity. And I'm not talking about wireless keyboards so you can write text messages quickly (anyone remember the Ericsson Chatboard?). The proper application was to connect the device which delivers the content (phone) to the device that stores and plays back the content (personal media player). That is what all the fuss was about.

I'm not spelling doom for PMPs, but there is definitely a market for the convergence of phones and media players. They won't be as good as separate devices, but as cameraphones have proven, this will not affect their popularity.

So, will there be a Samsung I300 underneath my Christmas tree this year? Um, no. The bloody thing is going to cost indecent amounts of money, and I need a new PC. I'll wait for the next generation of gigabyte phones, thank you very much.

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