The technology industry is constantly promising us the world. Not a day goes by that I don't hear about some revolutionary new hardware, software or concept that will change the way in which we live our lives. Unfortunately though, more often than not, these promises either amount to nothing, or take an absolute age to come to fruition.
Take the concept of convergence as an example. For the best part of a decade I'd heard IT and consumer electronics companies talking about the convergence of the two industries, thus creating products that borrowed from both areas in order to create a new platform for consumers. Of course that convergence is now common place in pretty much every home, in the shape of HDTVs, gaming consoles, and any number of wireless devices. And yes, our lives probably are that bit better as a result of the concept of convergence becoming a reality, but it doesn't change the fact that it took an awful long time to actually arrive.
Something else that the technology industry has been promising us for many years is the concept of a fully featured and connected mobile computer in our pocket, and I think that this concept is also pretty close to reality. Right now we're seeing a new age of mobile devices hitting the market, devices that are so feature rich, that they would have been the reserve of science fiction only a few years ago. The sheer power and usability of the latest generation of smartphones is staggering, even for someone as entrenched in the technology industry as myself.
To give credit where it's due, RIM is probably the company that really changed the perception of mobile devices when it introduced the first BlackBerry handset. Before the BlackBerry came on the scene, the idea of having your email delivered to your pocket was sheer fantasy. OK, so there were ways to access your email using devices like the Psion Series 5, or the Palm Pilot, but having email sent directly to your pocket, simply and easily came with the BlackBerry. In fact, we should really thank the fragmented mobile phone industry in the US at the time for this breakthrough. With differing standards and incompatible networks, the ubiquitous SMS communication that had swept through Europe simply didn't work in the States, so the concept of mobile email seemed to be the obvious answer.
Despite the fact that I still believe that there are relatively few people that need access to their email anytime and anywhere, it didn't stop the BlackBerry becoming a scarily addictive accessory for millions of us. Over time push email and BlackBerry handsets moved out of the corporate world, with consumers deciding that they too wanted email anywhere. Meanwhile other platforms started to offer push email services too, desperately trying to break the BlackBerry stranglehold.
By contrast, I think that Windows Mobile actually held things back rather than enhanced the situation. Microsoft's insistence that its mobile OS should look, feel and act the same as its desktop operating system just resulted in a poor user experience. OK, so for business users Windows Mobile isn't a bad solution, and it does pretty much everything you need it to, but for consumers it's hardly the most user friendly interface. The problem with Windows Mobile is epitomised by the fact that even now, there is no scalable browser bundled with the OS, leaving users to download and install Opera Mini if they plan on mobile browsing.
Credit where it's due though - if it wasn't for Windows Mobile, we wouldn't have seen as many advancements in mobile hardware. HTC for instance, is one of the most innovative mobile hardware manufacturers in the world, and if it wasn't for Windows Mobile, we probably wouldn't have seen half the smartphones that populate the market today. I guess it's fair to say that Windows Mobile was a necessary evil. And of course, there's always the chance that Windows Mobile 7 will be a streamlined, user friendly, stylus free affair - but then again, probably not.