Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Towards a handheld future

The Sony Playstation Portable is a superhit - as was the Nintendo DS.

There are four major categories of handheld devices that are a rage these days:
1. Mobile phones
2. Personal Digital Assistants and Digital Diaries
3. MP3 players (from Rio to iPod)
4. Portable Gaming consoles

The interesting thing is that at different levels these have already been integrated. For example, Nokia has mobile phones that can store and play MP3's, act as PDA's and the n-Gage for gaming. They dont have one that can act do all three though. And vice versa for the other devices too.

But convergence resulting in one device that can do all four seems imminent. Mobile phones are already making large inroads into the MP3 player space. This category seems the most vulnerable to death in the shake-out. The survivors will only be niche players, and the market will become small once the average mobile phone can do what they do - which seems just a matter of time.

Actually there is already a device that can do the job of all the four - the PC with proper plug-in accessories and software. So that brings us to another question: if one of the four handhelds rises to being able to perform the role of all four, will it then be able to replace the PC too?

I should think so. Already top-end PDA's are as powerful as top-end PC's of 5 years back. Remember that those PC's can still do anything that 90% of PC users need to do. The Sony Playstation 3 will be powered with a chip that is 10 times as powerful as the most powerful Intel chips. So if the same chip can work on the PS Portable, well that solves the power question. The biggest obstacle however lies elsewhere.

The main difference is in the display. Displays in handhelds are restricted by the size of the human hand - which despite evolution is not growing fast enough. The solution lies in moving away from LCD's and on to projectors. The technology to fit a projector to act as a display on a handheld already exists. It is a matter of time before the ergonomics are worked out and such a device is in the market. That then would be the final frontier for the PC.