CTIA - Microsoft's Ballmer makes a pitch for unifying devices

Melding voice, email and other functions in one gadget could be thorny, critics say

Everybody's seen That Guy on an airplane: He's got an MP3 player for music, a BlackBerry for e-mail, and a slick multimedia laptop for creating spreadsheets or watching movies. And he might even also carry a mobile phone, unless the BlackBerry doubles as one.

How long will it be before all these mobile devices converge into a single uber-gadget?

It's a question that has been on the minds of device makers for years, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer raised it again Tuesday.

"It's funny to see people pull out multiple devices, one for e-mail and another for phone calls," Ballmer told a keynote audience at CTIA: Wireless IT and Entertainment 2007 here. "That strikes me as incredibly odd."

Ballmer called on his audience of vendors and some IT managers to consider ways of bringing various devices together to handle different jobs and different types of customers -- both business and consumer.

"We have to think about the phone as the universal remote control for your business life and personal life," he said. "People want phones to be general-purpose devices to support me in my life and work."

It wasn't clear exactly how fast or how far Ballmer would push his point. Industry analysts in the audience wondered how desirable it might be for devices to converge -- leaving IT potentially in the position of supporting personal lifestyle applications on a device supplied to a worker at company expense.

Most problems could be minor, said analysts, but not all of them. A worker might occasionally surf on a company device to find porn or to gamble, posing liability and other worries to the company. By contrast, an application-rich device designed to help a salesman check an inventory of goods in a database might be too expensive to support the needs of a teenager mostly interesting in playing ring tones or downloading songs to a phone.

Converging all (or nearly all) functions for all (or nearly all) users into one device "is not realistic," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "Everybody knows a good video device is not necessarily good at e-mail, and so on."

And some leaders in the wireless industry realize that not every company will support personal uses on a company-issued device. In particular, defense contractors and financial services firms will probably always lock down devices to make sure they are not running programs that could carry viruses or otherwise compromise security, said members of a press-only luncheon panel addressing Microsoft's announcement of a new mobile device management manager.

Scott Horn, general manager of Microsoft's mobile communications business unit, said that "many users" want a converged device, but conceded there will always be some companies that don't want to support a device with all kinds of uses. He even said it is conceivable that some future device could have a partition between personal and work-related applications.

One panel member at the luncheon panel, Michael Woodward, vice president of business mobility marketing at AT&T, said that AT&T would work with companies that might be considering dividing up the costs for a single device. He explained that some companies could tell workers that the first US$60 of a monthly bill would be paid by the company, and the rest of the costs would be the responsibility of the user. AT&T is currently the sole US carrier offering Apple's iPhone, which has been marketed primarily as a consumer device.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Matt Hamblen

Computerworld
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Andrew Teoh

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

Touch screen visibility and operation was great and easy to navigate. Each menu and sub-menu was in an understandable order and category

Louise Coady

Brother MFC-L9570CDW Multifunction Printer

The printer was convenient, produced clear and vibrant images and was very easy to use

Edwina Hargreaves

WD My Cloud Home

I would recommend this device for families and small businesses who want one safe place to store all their important digital content and a way to easily share it with friends, family, business partners, or customers.

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?