Portable Future

We seem to be on the verge of a big breakthrough in portable entertainment similar to the emergence of so many MP3 players back in 1999-2000. This time, the breakthrough isn’t yet another device to lug around weighing down pockets already overloaded with cell phones, digital cameras, iPods and other cancer-inducing battery-powered leg warmers. Instead, we are extended support for existing formats in the same old devices we’ve grown accustomed to fill our pants.
Several companies have tried and failed to combine digital cameras with portable music players. The latest foray in this direction being that m:robe stuff demonstrated between plays in the Super Bowl. m:robe will undoubtedly fail just like past forays because people who want device convergence are more interested in combining a bad camera with their cell phone than they are in eliminating a portable music player from their device dependence.
The convergence that succeeds will combine audio and video player with what we currently recognize as a cell phone into one unified portable entertainment hub, finally providing some justification for that $25-per-month unlimited Internet access charge. Technically, this is nothing new. Pocket PC phones and SmartPhone devices supported music playback ages ago. Most countries on the Asian continent have faster data connections in their phones than they do in their homes. Battery life has been suspect, so using the phone as an entertainment tool meant potentially sacrificing an important call before reaching the next charging opportunity. Most of the Windows Mobile devices are past the battery hurdle, although, so few of us currently use Windows Mobile phones that it’s hard to pin the future on Microsoft’s cell phone strategy, in spite of several seriously cool phones.
When Nokia announces improved support for Real media formats, Windows Media and Flash in the same week, it’s time to take notice. Motorola and Apple just announced the first phone with onboard iTunes support too. Cell phone manufacturers are known for hardware innovation, but rarely offer compelling features on the software side. Now, instead of Microsoft pushing the envelope creating a platform to support media on the go, we’ve got cell phone makers embracing formats we currently love or love to hate.