The Roam Office Warrior principle is to stay connected and
productive (or at least capable of being productive) wherever our
ten little toes may lead us. With the newer generation of cell phone technology,
much of the cell phone industry seems to be falling over itself to put
cameras, MP3 players, radios, and even game consoles onto their customers'
handsets. Still, folks like this Roam Office Warrior just want to be able
to check email on the go and access their calendars and contacts as quickly
and as easily as possible. I can pass on listening to Morrissey and shooting
pictures of folks on the street.
While strictly business-centered Research in Motion (RIM)
handsets (those ubiquitous Blackberries) are geared precisely to do these
critical business functions, more consumer-oriented companies like Nokia,
Samsung, and Motorola, among others, are packing more and more practical
functionality onto their handsets.
In this piece, I’ll Iook
at the world of cell phone convergence while I explore the features of
a relatively innovative, affordable phone from Nokia, the 6800. I recently
upgraded from a (almost comically) tiny, monochrome Nokia 8390 GSM handset
(adequate for voice, and utterly inappropriate for anything but the briefest
of text messages) to a much larger and much more feature-packed 6800, pictured
below beside the phone it replaced.
The handset, as you can
see, folds out to reveal a QWERTY keyboard—no more pressing ABC keys in
sequence to get text. This is a critical feature for anyone that needs
to type text relatively quickly, as anyone who may need to do more than
one or two very brief emails would certainly want. The keys are much larger
than those available on the Blackberry and the Treo handsets, which worked
well in favor of the Nokia.
However, this article really
isn’t about a particular phone, it’s about using the phone for business.
While features can vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer, and
even among phones from the same manufacturer, there are some basic features
that every Roam Office Warrior will want:
capability to receive and send emails and text messages
capability to input data quickly
capability to synch with Outlook for contacts, tasks, notes, and calendar
capability to access the web for services such as directions to the closest
ATM or restaurant (or, perhaps just as importantly, the local Starbucks)
I’ll leave aside photo
galleries, ring tones, wallpaper, startup tones, and other “fun” features
and focus just on the nitty-gritty business applications of a convergence
phone like the Nokia 6800.
General Packet Radio Services,
known by its acronym GPRS, is the standard that allows email and web packets
to traverse wireless services. It’s slow. Did I say it was slow? I meant
that it’s slooooooow. I understand that the newest generation of
phones are capable of faster speeds, so that’s encouraging. The rest of
us just put up with it.
Now on to the major convergence
No doubt, the desire to
access my business email while away from my laptop was what drove my purchase
more than anything else. I regularly go up to San Francisco and spend the
better part of the day in meetings. Until now, I have had to find the closest
Kinko’s laptop station and plug in to check email. Not anymore; now I am
limited only by the availability of my carrier’s GPRS network, which so
far has been pretty good. Once the setup was done it has been simplicity
itself pulling down my work email.
Now, for the down side… there
are a couple of things you need to be aware of in the email-on-the-cell-phone-world:
first, if your phone service blocks port 25, you won’t be able to use your
usual SMTP account to send mail. This means you’ll have to use your wireless
mail service’s SMTP server. This is not a big deal to set up, but for me
the information wasn’t easy to find.
The second issue to be
aware of is that if you get a third-party email client, you will not be
able to access the contacts stored in your phone’s memory, so you’ll have
to maintain a second address book dedicated to the email client. This is
because J2ME, the mobile Java platform, has security features that protect
the phone’s sensitive data from being accessed by Java programs. In other
words, your personal data are off-limits for third-party software programs.
Too bad; Reqwireless’ EmailViewer is a nice little program that’s a good
deal faster than the stock Nokia email client.
Finally, making email useable
on cell phones is yet another reason to tell your friends to lay off
the HTML emails. The HTML tags add a lot to the size of an email, and
may be unrenderable by your phone’s email client. HTML in email is great
for sending newsletters, press releases, etc., but it is pointless to use
in common correspondence and annoying for those who have problems reading
it. Plain text is the way to go, folks.
Of course, if I want my
phone to be able to keep me organized and in touch, I have to be able to
access my contact data, important notes, and calendar items. I happen to
use Outlook, and happily synch my Outlook contacts, calendar, notes, and
task lists with my phone. Don’t use Outlook? I think you are out of luck,
my friend, at least as far as the Nokia synch software is concerned. If
you use Goldmine or Act! you might consider FoneSynch, which allows for
synching with cell phones.
The web on cell phones…err,
not quite there yet. Remember the slow thing I mentioned about GPRS?
For me, it’s pretty much intolerable. See if you can get anything productive
done on it. I know the interesting services that are offered: Check
movie listings! Find a restaurant near you! Check for directions and maps!
Download pictures and music! That all sounds fantastic, but the fact
is that it’s just tooooo sloooow to be of much use. Again, those
of you with the newest generation phones with accelerated data rates may
have an entirely different experience. For me, the lag times made these
hoopla’ed features next to useless.
Still, the high promise
of convergence remains, and I suspect that we are not far off from having
some really useful web-enabled applications accessible on affordable consumer
cell phones. For now, just being able to check and respond to emails anywhere
there is cell access is a killer app in itself.