We made a big deal about the beautiful new Zire 72 from PalmOne Inc. with a built-in camera. But one of our readers pointed out that built-in cameras are becoming a serious hassle. In his case, he had bought a Zire 71 for his wife for Christmas, and she only got to use it for a week before she was told she could no longer bring it to the office.
I had a similar experience a few months ago, at jury duty, with my brand-new Panasonic cell phone. Id expected to be able to use the phone until my panel was called, but the phone was confiscated on my way into the courthouse.
Now, I can live without a camera, but I cant live without a phone. And a PDA you cant use at work is more like a paperweight.
Ive heard that this trend of confiscating and banning such devices is expanding in North America, Europe and Asia. It creates a serious problem for people who have become addicted to them to manage their lives and communicate with the outside world.
In my case, I had to retire the $400 Panasonic phone, which was only 3 months old, and go to a Motorola phone that didnt have a camera. A huge waste of money, but the Panasonic phone didnt work particularly well, so I dont miss it as much as you might think.
I did really like the idea of having a camera that was always with me, and clearly, in Japan in particular, getting rid of these combined devices will be nearly impossible. What is needed is a modular approach to the solution, so you can give up the camera but not give up the phone. Strangely enough, Handspring, now part of PalmOne, at one time had a technology that would do this.
Handspring created something called a Springboard module, now discontinued, which allowed you to upgrade a Handspring PDA with accessories such as a camera without buying a new handheld computer.
These days, the best way to do this is to get a PDA that has a Secure Digital Input/Output (SDIO) slot and get an SD camera module. But the implementation isnt as well-integrated as Handspring was, and the placement of these SD slots often is hardly optimized for camera use (and some wont take accessories such as cameras).
In addition, part of what makes the integrated devices so attractive is that they are very easy to use. The devices are designed with the camera in mind, so the buttons you use to take and manage the pictures are often (granted, not always) intuitive, avoiding the need to carry the manual with the device.
This means that the camera should be designed in but be removable, rather than a third-party add-on, so that usability doesnt become a problem. In addition, a designed-in solution often looks better, and these devices are often as much personal statement as they are tool. In short, if its ugly, people wont buy it.
One alternative that occurred to me—and granted, this came magically after I got off the phone with the folks who run the Bluetooth SIG—was that you could couple a Bluetooth PDA or cell phone to a Bluetooth camera and solve the problem, if that problem was e-mailing pictures. But most users dont e-mail pictures and simply use the combined device as the easiest way to have a camera with them at all times.
So, why not just carry a small camera? The PDA and cell-phone cameras are slow, taking as long as a second from when you hit the button until the device captures an image. Theyre also typically very low resolution, they cant hold many pictures, and they dont have a flash, so if its nighttime, you will miss the shot.
I went to the Web and found a reconditioned Olympus D-390 camera for $89. It is small, a real camera, and if someone confiscates it and doesnt give it back, at $89, you wont feel like jumping off a bridge.
Here at eWEEK, we are having an ongoing discussion on whether it is philosophically better to have an all-in-one device, in most cases a PDA/phone, or a set of separate devices that work together. In the end, it likely depends more on the economics and usage than anything else.
If I get the secondary functions for a lot less and dont sacrifice usability, the all-in-one approach works. If not, it doesnt. It will be interesting to see which manufacturer creates a device family of products such as PDAs, cell phones and cameras that work together out of the box.
While we can speculate on when smart phones will step up to the integration challenge, one thing is clear: If one part of the combined device is regularly banned, then the all-in-one approach simply wont work, and it is time to take another approach.
From a corporate perspective, if you are thinking of banning the integrated devices, it is probably best to get this into policy now, before a lot of folks buy these camera devices and get upset when they arent allowed into their place of work.