The Handheld Upgrade Conundrum

Handheld makers constantly pump out upgraded products, leaving enterprises such as this medical devices manufacturer with perpetual upgrade decisions.
As avid fans of the Treo 650, employees at medical devices manufacturer FoxHollow Technologies Inc., are not rushing to upgrade to the brand new 700p anytime soon.

“There’s nothing immediately that screams I have to have this in our environment,’’ observes Norman Leong, service desk supervisor at the Redwood City, Calif.-based company, which makes a device that removes plaque from arteries.

The most notable change for FoxHollow staffers testing the device, released by Palm in May, is the additional memory, says Leong.

The 700p has twice the memory of a 650, and four times the resolution in the camera, according to Tara Griffin, vice president of enterprise markets at Palm in New York. The 700p also includes the ability to view PDF files for the first time, she says.

“It’s like going from dial-up to cable modem, so the speed increase is very obvious,’’ says Griffin. “This network allows you to do so much more, like stream video or audio … It’s like having Ethernet in your pocket.”

The other major change is the 700p is the first Treo to offer dial-up networking, Griffin says. “You can take your Treo and tether it to a laptop and use your Treo as a modem for your laptop. So you can turn your laptop into high speed access so you don’t have to look for a hotspot at Starbucks and you don’t need an extra PC card.”

Beyond Email

“It is a significant upgrade,’’ agrees Jack Gold, principal of J. Gold Associates, a technology research firm specializing in mobile issues. “The 650 … has been around a while and the useful life on a device is 12 to 18 months these days. The upgrade cycle is there anyway.”

Gold believes users who upgrade will be split almost evenly between the 700p, which uses Palm’s proprietary operating system, and the 700w, a Windows-based device Palm introduced in January. “The real question is if a company is going to buy a standard device, will it be the 700p? That’s not clear,” he says.

Companies today deploy handheld devices with an application focus rather than just for wireless access to email, and that may mean a preference toward a Windows-powered device, he says, since most applications are Windows based. Palm is covered either way, since they offer both platforms.

The camera, browser, memory and user interface have all been improved, and that’s the main concern of users, since they want their personal devices to be easier to use, Gold says.

“Are these revolutionary improvements? Have they lifted the bar 16 feet in the air from where they were? No, but they’ve made enough improvements where this will be attractive to people,’’ Gold says. “I think they will do very well with this device on an upgrade cycle from people who have had 650 and want something new but not a completely revolutionary device.”

That’s how FoxHollow Technology’s Leong sees it: nice, but nothing earth-shattering. His team has put two applications on the 700ps — Good Technology’s Goodlink and Kinoma, which is a video player.

“We have an animation of our product and angiograms from cases we’ve converted to that format that can be played on their [handhelds]. Instead of dragging out a laptop and firing it up and showing the video to doctors or whoever, we can show them what we’re about very quickly. So we use it as a sales tool,’’ Leong says.

'Pretty Big Hassle'

He says they have also purchased a single 700w from Verizon to see how the Windows mobile platform would play in their environment. As a result, Leong thinks it is “very unlikely” they will migrate onto the Windows-based platform as the 650s need to be replaced. Most people at FoxHollow are more familiar with the Palm OS, he notes.

While Leong says the transition to the new handhelds will be a “pretty big hassle” for IT, he admits that they have become an indispensable work productivity tool.

“Once they start using it, they’re pretty dependent on it, as evidenced by an email I got this morning from a sales rep who either lost or misplaced his phone,’’ Leong says. “You hear from these people pretty quickly--specifically from sales people.”

The migration will probably start for senior staff later on this year so there won’t be what Leong calls “Treo envy.”

Although he says they’d be fine if they stayed on the 650s indefinitely, Leong is looking forward to watching the technological advancements in handhelds. He envisions the ability to push out daily sales numbers and be able to better manipulate Word documents and Excel spreadsheets attached inside of emails.

“I’m sure there’s going to be much more out there for vertical markets,’’ he says. “We hit a certain segment so what we use is probably just scratching the surface.”






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