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Wireless World: PDAs vs. Pagers [Office Solutions magazine]

by Hope Katz Gibbs
Office Solutions magazine
July 2000

Steve Barrett loves his pager. Seven years ago, the freelance photographer from Alexandria, Va., bought one, and now says he gets very nervous on days when he accidentally leaves home without it.

“Sometimes, I’m half asleep in the morning when I leave the house and my pager gets left behind on the dining room table,” says Barrett, whose photographs regularly appear on the pages of USA Today, Washingtonian magazine, and the Los Angeles Times. “My entire day feels off. I rely on that pager to keep me connected to my clients. When a photo editor from a newspaper or magazine needs a photographer for a shoot, it is often a last minute arrangement. They’ll call maybe three of us, and
the first one to return the call gets the job. Time and time again, my pager has made the difference.”

Barrett says he does not intend to trade in his digital workhorse for, say, a personal digital assistant (PDA). “I paid $60 for my pager and pay only $9.90 a month for up to 200 messages,” he says. “You can’t beat the price. There is no reason for me to even think of incorporating any other type of technology into my life.”

Barrett is not alone. Although PDAs have grown in popularity since Jeff Hawkins introduced the first PaImPilot in 1996, industry experts and users alike agree, the day of the easy-to-use, reliable pager is not likely to go the way of Betamax anytime soon.

Why? Numbers. About 50 million Americans own pagers. Only 10 million have PDAS. Industry insiders agree, however, that in the near future pagers are likely to get some impressive upgrades.

“What is already happening is that pagers are becoming more powerful and functional,” says John Kampfe, spokesperson for BellSouth Wireless Data. “Take, for example, the RIM Inter@ctive Pager 950. A compact device has a 386 microprocessor and a full keyboard. When combined with the BellSouth Interactive Paging service, it is used to perform full two-way interactive communication.”

Kampfe says that because devices such as the RIM can perform wireless stock trading and other wireless e-commerce functions, two-way pagers are a long way from being obsolete.

Research by Dataquest of San Jose, Calif., supports Kampfe’s opinion. A 1999 report indicates that two-way paging will continue to be the leading revenue generator in the wireless data market. It’s expected to expand from three million subscribers in 1999 to 36 million in 2003. Revenue generated from wireless data services is also expected to grow from $460 million in 1999 to $3 billion in 2003. Researchers attribute much of the growth to the falling price of two-way paging devices.

Additional research conducted by the Wireless Data Forum, an independent technology-neutral trade group in Washington, D.C., dedicated to promoting the wireless data industry, also shows PDAs won’t replace pagers.

“However, PDAs do expand the universe of devices that will be used on wireless networks,” says Mark Desautels, managing director of the Wireless Data Forum. “What we are finding out from users is that they have a variety of needs and that different devices meet different needs.”

As a result, the Wireless Data Forum predicts users will carry different devices at different times to meet changing needs. Under such a scenario, what’s superior is what best meets a customer’s current needs, Desautels says. “Both technologies have strengths and weaknesses,” says Desautels. “The question that must be asked is: ‘What will the user be doing with the device?’ Once that is determined, it is easier to choose one.”

What high-tech gadgets does Desautels own? He says he rarely leaves home without his PDA with a Novatel wireless modem, a RIM two-way pager, a Mitsubishi smart phone that connects him to the Internet, and a Sierra Wireless AirCard wireless modem for his laptop. “As you can see,” Desautels says, “I am never without wireless connectivity!”

Another businessman who is rarely without a wireless device is Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing for the Gartner Group research firm based in San Jose, Calif. Dulaney says he carries a Palm V PDA and a cell phone. Take note, however, that Dulaney does not have a pager. And it’s for a good reason.

“I believe that in the next four or five years, pagers will fade away,” he says. “They’ll become either part of cell phones, as they have been in Europe, or they’ll become part of new wireless PDAS. Granted, the device that people will carry in a few years may look like the pager they own today; but in 2004, those devices will do much more
than simply send and receive messages.”

Dulaney predicts PDAs and smart phones will be adopted by 40 percent of mobile users by 2004. But he’s quick to point out that 2004 is a long time from now. In the meantime, he sees areas where PDA technology can be improved.

In a Jan. 24, 2000, report entitled Mobile E-Mail: How Small Are Your Fingers?, Dulaney wrote: “E-mail on small machines is at the absolute top of the hype cycle. Users who believe they can now leave their notebooks at home and carry with them only a phone or a PDA are in for rude awakenings.

As device size is reduced, increased compromises in ergonomics combined with proprietary architectures required for battery operation bring about the twin problems of usability and compatibility. Simultaneously, e-mail is requiring richer, lengthier responses, while mass interconnectivity among internal and external constituents favors strong compatibility among applications.

Potential users of devices with sub-notebook form factors must segment e-mail by complexity using the
charts and choose a device that appropriately handles the communication in a way that avoids user frustration.”

Several other good reasons for people not to give up their pagers, Dulaney says, are that pagers have better coverage, are smaller than PDAS, and work on a technology that’s more mature.

Change is coming though. Motorola, for example, recently created the next generation of high-tech pagers. Last year, it introduced several new paging-based products-including the Talkabout T350 word message pager and the Talkabout T900 and Timeport P935 inter-active communicators-that give mobile users access to the Internet from anywhere they go: their car, a plane, a boardroom.

Motorola has also developed the PageWriter 200OX interactive communicator. It combines a PDA, a paging device, and a PC with Internet access and is small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. It also comes bundled with TrueSyne Software, which enables users to schedule appointments and tasks, keep track of contacts, and even take notes on a lighted keyboard.

Although reviews of the PageWriter have been mixed, the mere development of the device indicates the wireless industry is undergoing a metamorphosis.

“The future of this industry is going to be very exciting,” says Laura Rippy, chief executive officer of Handango, formerly the GOPDA Network. “PDAs will become wireless soon. And when that happens, there is a good chance that pagers will become the CB radios of the 1990s. I don’t think pagers will ever go away entirely. Rather, I think they will develop PDA-like components.”

PDAS, Rippy says, will also improve dramatically in the near future-and Handango is hoping to cash in on the advancements by outfitting corporate America with handheld solutions. In addition to operating an online super-store (www.handango.com) that sells handheld computing devices, the Hurst, Texas, company is planning to begin a consulting venture. It will help corporations develop a strategic infrastructure, enabling them to better use the technology available as a competitive tool.

Shoppers who visit handango.com can buy the latest handheld device, download handheld software applications for the Palm or Windows CE devices, and choose from 7,000 software titles provided by 2,600 software developers.

Among those developers is Dallas-based JP Systems, founded in 1996.

The company’s software connects PDAS, pagers, and cell phones with data networks, enabling almost any mobile device to instantly and wirelessly exchange e-mail and access the Internet on demand.

The key to the company’s software is infrared technology, says Andy Tarzon, director of Mobile Products at JP Systems. “Located inside PDAS, pagers, and cell phones, these infrared ports enable the devices to exchange e-mail and messages,” Tarzon says. “Another technology is enabling mobile devices to do even more. Bluetooth is actually a radio chip that will replace infrared technology and save users from having to line up the infrared ports on their devices.”

Plus, Tarzon says, the radio frequencies will allow many devices to talk to each other. These advances are one reason the industry is exploding.

“What’s happening is that it isn’t a story of PDAs versus pagers,” Tarzon says. “It isn’t an ‘us versus them’ situation. What is happening is that we are coming up with ways for all devices to work together.”

Already, JP Systems’ software enables mobile devices to automatically update schedule changes, write and send a quick e-mail to someone from a contact list, and even bargain hunt. It’s true.

“Using one of the features on our InfoBeam software [called the bar point service feature] a customer can compare the price of an item in one store against the same item at another store,” says Tarzon. “If the competitor’s price is better, they can even
make purchases wirelessly without ever leaving the first store.”

Frequent flyers also can benefit from the technology. Tarzon says that while on a business trip, his software enables travelers to download information about concerts, plays, and movies happening at their destination. Folks can even buy a ticket to the event wirelessly—even from an airplane.

“The Web experience isn’t something you do just from home or work anymore,” Tarzon says. “We are beginning to integrate all of our devices, be it PDA, pager, or desktop computer. In the not-so-distant future, these devices will simply become complements to the software. And the software will enable you to do anything you want from wherever you may be.”


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"I get by with a little help from my friends," says Hope, who gives special thanks to:

• MICHAEL GIBBS, website illustration and design: www.michaelgibbs.com
• MAX KUKOY, website development: www.maxwebworks.com
• STEVE BARRETT, portrait of Hope on Bio page: www.stevebarrettphotography.com

Contact HOPE KATZ GIBBS by phone [703-346-6975] or email.