WIRELESS WORLD: Farewell to handhelds

WIRELESS WORLD: Farewell to handhelds

Mobile phone or handheld, which will it be? Though many vendors, afraid of ticking off potential customers, always respond with the bland assurance that "there will be room for both", I think there will be a winner and an also-ran.

If I could say "freeze" and stop all development in its tracks at this very moment, just long enough to assess what is available and what will soon be available, I would put my money on mobile phones.

On the hardware side of things, while Intel designs and fabricates logic and memory chips for both markets, its research and development on mobile phones will keep them in the running.

The XScale processor for cell phones has the performance and low-power consumption that can turn any handset into a computer, if that's what you need.

Manitoba, a future version of XScale, includes the logic, the digital signal processor, Flash memory and SRAM on a single piece of silicon, allowing it to run both communications and data apps.

Intel is now introducing something new on the memory side as well: StrataFlash, multibit-level memory chips for mobile phones. StrataFlash is not new - it has been used on handhelds - but it now meets mobile phone requirements, with an 85-nanosecond access time and 1.8-volt power consumption, so that it can be deployed by handset manufacturers.

StrataFlash will also allow manufacturers to stack those two-bit-per-cell memory chips on one another to pack 128MB of memory into a small mobile phone, not one of those ugly, clunky smart phones. Thus, the new chips double the memory capacity in the same space as the old chips, while reducing power consumption in idle mode by 65 per cent and run mode by 35 per cent.

In addition, StrataFlash allows the handset to perform two operations at once: reading memory in one partition, while writing to another. If this was a camera phone, you could take a picture and store it while talking on the phone. If it was a business phone, you could, while talking, look up contacts, retrieve data, and then send it.

Add Bluetooth to the handset, and why bother with a handheld? The exception would be in vertical solutions for niche markets. But with Bluetooth, I can have one database on my handset that I can sync with my notebook - which I am not giving up - from my desktop or in my car. For most white-collar pencil pushers (a category to which I assign myself), retrieving short bursts of info, plus having the usual PIM functionality, is all we'll ever need.

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