The cell phone business may change in the future. For years now, people have generally selected their phone network vendor first (i.e. Alltel, Sprint, Verizon, etc.) and then picked the phone. Cell phones were fairly low function (i.e. they just made phone calls - how quaint!) and there really wasn't much difference between them.
But cell phones have grown up and have now very firmly crossed the boundary into personal information devices. A cell phone now not only just makes phone calls, but also can play music, handle email, browse the Internet, tell you where you are, and run office applications such as word processing and spreadsheets. To enable this, some phones have much larger keyboards and larger displays.
Now the purchase algorithm is starting to change. People are first picking their phone, and then using the service that sells that phone. If you want a Tilt or an iPhone, you go to AT&T. If you want a Mogul, you go to Sprint.
But the ultimate goal is open networks - where you can put any phone that you buy on any cell carrier. AT&T has already announced that they will permit this, although it is not in effect yet. Eventually you will buy your phone like you buy an MP3 player, and then have your service connect it.
As I said in previous columns, I have now switched to the AT&T Tilt phone, made by HTC. I got it at the local ATMC store, but you can also get it at AT&T stores in Wilmington or via 800 number or the Internet. This phone has many advanced features - even more than the iPhone - but the Tilt is more of a business oriented phone and doesn't have the slick user interface of the iPhone. The Tilt has been on many of the latest "best" lists.
So, what does the Tilt have?
First of all, the Tilt is a full PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) and runs Microsoft Mobile 6. It has a larger, PDA sized screen and has Mobile Office applications such as Outlook, Word and Excel. Synchronization with Outlook for files, email, schedules, etc. is built in. The slide out keyboard makes working with this type of data easier.
The Tilt has full email capability. You can send and receive email on multiple accounts, and can even access Blackberry format email. You can also access your Outlook email accounts. Emails can contain photos, graphics, etc. and even Internet links.
A limited version of Internet Explorer is built in to access the Internet. Although this works to some degree, I found that the aftermarket program Opera Mobile a lot better. The screen is touch sensitive - it's made for use with a stylus, but you can do some finger manipulations such as scrolling web pages without it.
The Tilt has voice dialing, but by adding the Microsoft Voice Command package you can do all kinds of stuff - dial any contact without pre-recording, ask the date or time, get your next appointment, check battery level, etc. - all with voice response.
One feature that I thought I would never use is its GPS, since I have a GPS in the car. But I found that the portable version was easier to use in some cases, especially if you just want to find out where you are. The main difference between the Tilt GPS and the car types is that the maps are not pre-stored in the device. Rather, the maps are downloaded dynamically over the Internet connection as you move via Google maps.
Mobile Internet and email is not bleeding edge technology - remember that it took me a while to find the phone and service combination I wanted. But now I have it, and it sure is handy. The other day I needed an address - I used the Internet to get the address, then the GPS told me how to get there. And all in the same little piece of handheld plastic. Slick.
(Bob Seidel is a local computer consultant in the Southport - Oak Island area. You can visit his Website at www.bobseidel.com or e-mail questions or column ideas to him at email@example.com. For specific inquiries, please call Bob Seidel Consulting, LLC at 278-1007.)