Sunday, September 17, 2006

Who wants Wi-Fi in a phone?

Is it possible that we don't actually care about Wi-Fi in phones? There's still not many out there, and I'm wondering if there's much demand either.

There've been a couple of major-ish launches in the last two weeks - well, actually, two launches of well-known products (the Blackberry and the Treo) re-jigged to fit particular niches.

We can enjoy the irony that the Palm Treo looks more and more like a Blackberry while the Blackberry Pearl is trying to look like a feature phone. But that's superficial, as they each have their own user interface (or in Palm's case, Microsoft's user interface) and their own fans.

What's interesting is that both had features added to meet market needs, but neither of them has Wi-Fi. And at the press conferences, when asked why not, the marketing people of both companies made it quite clear that they thought about it and rejected it out of hand as a dumb idea.

If your handset's battery has just been drained by Wi-Fi, it's no good as a phone, said Palm's Ed Colligan. RIM's Charmaine Eggberry laughed at the idea they'd use space in their smallest Blackberry to add a battery-eating technology.

This kind of thing must be a bit dismal for the people (mostly software makers for converged services) who've been telling me all year that phones are all going to have Wi-Fi, and converged services will drop out of the sky.

Well they might do that. But not just yet.

What about the demand for them? I don't know in great detail, but I have noticed changes in what this country's metropolitan Wi-Fi people have been saying. Metro Wi-Fi was first pitched as a great way for local government employees to keep in touch with their office systems on the move, using Wi-Fi bandwidth, which would be free once the network was rolled out.

All the local government people I've spoken to lately say they aren't doing that. Their staff are on GPRS or 3G data, because it's got better coverage, the network and handsets are provided and maintained by a third party, and the batteries last longer.

(there have been other changes too in the metro pitch, such as the idea that it would provide connectivity to the disadvantaged, and heal the digital divide, but we'll go into that later).

For now - who really needs dual-mode Wi-Fi handsets?


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