Nokia N97; where is the iPAQ R&D team?

Is somebody in the driver’s seat asleep? Nokia just launched their N97 top-of-the-line mobile phone today – which blows away pretty much everything else on the market right now. And while I think the “multimedia computer” thing is still a bunch of marketing bull, everything else sounds solid, if not fantastic. A large 3.5 inch touchscreen – a widescreen one at that, 32 GB internal memory with a microSD slot for even more, 5 megapixel camera with VGA video recording, a 3.5 mm headphone jack plus the usual mobile phone goodies: WiFi, HSDPA, Bluetooth, A-GPS and all. And yea, a side slide-out QWERTY keyboard… this is what the HP iPAQ Data Messenger should have been!!

HP is the world’s largest computer manufacturer and sure they would have a good excuse to not put high emphasis on thigs like printers or calculators. But there are several good reasons to divert some resources (ahem, put in some effort in developing) the iPAQ line of Pocket PC/phones. These little devices are like micro computers too; they have processors, RAM, even have operating systems and offer expandability through software – though Nokia’s gimmicky marketing is taking things a little too far over the edge. And, unlike printers or calculators whose markets are already saturated and where there’s little product differentiation between competition (come on, claims of prints lasting up to 90, 99, 100 or 101 years are everywhere), the mobile device market is a lucrative one.

Though not at its infancy, the (mobile device) market is currently at a place where there’s still room for growth, people are rushing for them as every year there is a “leap” in one area or another (it was built-in cameras at one time, then WiFi, now it’s GPS and touchscreens) and so a sizeable profit can still be made here – somewhere I’d call its “teenage years”, where product makers still have some features they can experiment with, that they can stuff into this phone and that one, things that will gather “oohs” and “aahs” from the crowds and make them a ton of sales. Want good, recent examples? Look at the Nokia N95, look at the Apple iPhone.

The N95 wasn’t the first slider phone in the world, nor was the iPhone the first to feature a touchscreen. Hey, the HP iPAQ h6310 had a 3.5 inch touchscreen too waaay back in 2004! The N95 was marketed heavily as a multimedia device; it could play music, movies, had a 5 megapixel camera, and so was the iPhone (umm just replace the 5 megapixel camera part with a large touchscreen).

There hasn’t really been any exciting or revolutionary new iPAQ recently that the crowds would gush for, since the iPAQ hw6515 in 2005. The hw6915 was a mere refresh of the hw6515, the rw6828 and iPAQ 514 weren’t high-end powerful devices, and the rest of the line, iPAQ 600, 900 and Data Messenger really had nothing special to trump the competition, or at least spark some public hype.

Dear HP/Compaq, isn’t it time to wake up? What happened to being the number one Pocket PC manufacturer in the world? Even that title was snagged by HTC a while ago. With that kind of company size and especially a company being in the IT & computing industry itself, I’m sure HP could churn out some impressive Pocket PC/phones too, if only they’d work a little harder at it. Some impressive new iPAQs in the future would be nice, just like the good old days in pre-2005.

Put in better cameras into the iPAQs, stuff in bigger LCDs and more memory, have dual microSD/microSDHC slots (after all, they’re so small), ask the Touchsmart team to help with the user interface, heck add a SIM card slot to the current iPAQ 200! Anything to bring out a nice iPAQ Pocket PC phone that will sell like hot cakes.

I sure hope something’s brewing back there in the HP Labs. And if so, I hope we see the real deal coming out soon (READ: ASAP in 2009).

P.S. If some of this sounds familiar, then yes, it’s no mistake – I’ve posted some input on HP iPAQs in The Next Bench before as “mark” (as in “benchMARK”, not your neighbor Mark) when the article by Enderle brought up the discussion of the “Voodoo phone”.

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