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Black and white displays are dead – and other predictions on the future of mobile communicators. By April Karys at Comdex

Not long ago, the mobile communications industry was working off-kilter. There were devices, but they were expensive and couldn’t network: there were applications, but they wouldn’t work on the devices, and they didn’t address user concerns. But all that has changed, according to MobileWeek President David Hayden, whose company sponsored the Mobile Communicators session of the Business Technology Conference at Comdex in Las Vegas on Monday morning. The clear message from “The Next Generation: Hype vs. Reality””? Believe the hype.

“”It’s finally here – from devices, applications, networks, users and priced plans, it’s all coming together,”” Hayden said. “”The mobile communications industry is finally firing on all cylinders.””

Hayden enumerated the top industry trends and insights that have energized the mobile market space:

Integrated wireless solutions have been a catalyst for market growth, he said. “”All sorts of devices have built-in wireless now, with some even having Wi-Fi.”” Colour is another big component. “”We believe that black and white on these devices is dead,”” Hayden said.

The price difference between devices incorporating black-and-white screens vs. those with colour screens is negligible, he said, and consumers and corporations have proved willing to pay that difference to get colour.

Keyboard integration has been key. Recognition, Hayden posited, is dead. “”Now all these devices have keyboards built in. The social dynamics of voice recognition is not there, and handwriting recognition is not where consumers want it to be yet.”” Handspring’s sales of devices with keyboards, he said, far surpass its sales of keyboard-less devices.

Other key trends and insights from Hayden? Processing and memory has increased across the board in mobile devices. Messaging is a key driver of user satisfaction. And prices are coming down.

This time last year, the mobile communications market was held back while consumers waited for a one-size-fits-all solution. “”That’s the Holy Grail – devices that do it all,”” Hayden said. “”Now there’s a plethora of good products in the marketplace.””

Hayden called the Handspring Trio a key device in this transformation. “”It synergized the market,”” he said. “”It’s the first one that received good feedback from the user community.””

Microsoft, while gaining traction in Pocket PC market space, is losing traction in the mobile space, as are RIM’s devices, Hayden said. “”You couldn’t hold them like a phone and talk. You had to use an ear bud, like with a Palm. This doesn’t work in the U.S. market,”” he said. With rare exception, he added, current integrated mobile devices have poor phone function – although that’s expected to change soon.

On hand for the Mobile Communicators presentation were representatives from companies that have come on strong in the mobile arena, including Digit Wireless, developers of fastap technology: Danger Inc., which provides an integrated wireless Internet software: PacketVideo, developers and deployers of wireless multimedia: FrogPad, developers of a new mobile keyboard solution: and LapLink, which developed software that allows users to access their home and office PCs from anywhere securely. Moderating was Ephraim Schwartz, editor-at-large and San Francisco bureau chief of InfoWorld.

Showing Off

Presenters at Monday’s “”Mobile Communicators: The Next Generation – Hype vs. Reality”” offered demonstrations of hardware and software already on the scene or soon to emerge:

Danger Inc. – The hiptop device seamlessly connects to wireless networks, letting users browse the Internet (with standard HTML, not WAP), exchange instant messages and send/receive e-mail (with attachments). The device’s relatively large screen flips back to expose a keyboard, and it’s also a full-featured phone.

DigitWireless – The Fastap keypad is an intuitive mobile phone interface. The new keyboard addresses such issues as intuitiveness, size, design flexibility, reliability and ease of use.

FrogPad – This tiny, green, one-handed keyboard for use with PCs and mobile devices features 15 keys arranged intuitively. While the current keyboard is for right-handed use, FrogPad plans to introduce a keyboard for left-handers soon.

LapLink – LapLink’s keyboard-independent, device-independent technology has strong security features, as no applications are executed. Instead, the software “”talks”” directly to Outlook Express, Microsoft Word, databases, etc., allowing users to access files and directories without fear of security breaches.

PacketVideo – PacketVideo is the first company in the world to demonstrate MPEG-4 video images streaming to mobile devices. The embedded software allows streaming video to be recorded, sent and played on mobile devices.

April Karys is a staff writer for the Comdex Daily. She can be reached at april.karys@key3media.com.

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