Two things are imminently clear: Mobile phones are a ubiquitous lifeline for employees in the field, and mobile employees need access to back end data if they truly want to perform their jobs efficiently.
Right now, mobile workers have plenty of choices when it comes to meeting these needs. Soon, however, all the choices may seem quite similar.
It really wasn't all that long ago that PDAs and mobile phones served two different purposes. The PDA in your coat pocket handled scheduling and contact information and interfaced with enterprise applications -- the data side of the equation. The mobile phone clipped to your belt was the obvious choice for voice communication.
CONVERGED DEVICES ARE PRACTICAL CHOICE
For mobile employees who have converged voice/data devices, this two-device concept seems like ancient history. But, trust me, it's still in wide practice today. That's all going to change as next-generation products and carrier services allow mobile phones and PDAs to incorporate each other's functionality.
If you need examples of PDA form factors incorporating mobile phone functionality, check out the most recent cover articles in Integrated Solutions (www.integratedsolutionsmag.com). In one case, we outlined the use of Blackberry 6710 units by truck drivers for CSX Intermodal Inc. In another, visiting nurses leveraged Audiovox 4100 units. Both were cases of PDA form factors incorporating voice communication.
You want to see it the other way around? No problem. Nokia's Mobile RFID Kit will enable users to read RFID (radio frequency identification) tags (13.56 MHz) and conduct transactions. If mobile workers need to read RFID tags or sensors in the field, they just swipe the mobile phone in the proximity of the tag and the acquired data is captured and sent to headquarters. For field service applications, consider Nextel's ability to track employees with GPS (global positioning system) technology and allow users to perform functions like swiping credit cards, reading bar codes, and interacting with CRM (customer relationship management) solutions.
BREAK THE MOLD, BREAK THE BANK
It's obvious that the future will not include separate devices to handle voice and data. Instead you'll be asked to choose the one best device that accommodates both of those needs. So, will you opt for a PDA that includes mobile phone functionality or a mobile phone that incorporates the functionality of a PDA? For the short term, this is the choice you're going to have to make. And, the environment will dictate the decision. You'll have to weigh the importance of screen size, input methods, connectivity options, applications, and compactness. You'll also have to keep in mind that users are already trained on navigating the features of mobile phones, while PDAs might offer a challenge.
But, this is your choice: a PDA trapped in the form factor of a mobile phone or vice versa. The day is fast approaching, however, when even this choice will disappear. That day will happen when a manufacturer breaks the mold and designs a device that is neither a mobile phone nor a PDA, but truly a best-of-breed hybrid device.