A Smarter Cell Phone
The New Breed of Smartphones Offers Functionality for a Price.
Smartphones — the generic label for cellular phones combined with personal digital assistants — seem like an idea whose time has come. Doesn't everyone want to give up carrying multiple gadgets? Who wouldn't like downloading e-mail on the road while talking on the phone? Wouldn't it be great to snap a photograph of a building and instantly send it to potential buyers?
Although today's smartphones offer those features and more, many commercial real estate professionals are delaying buying one for various reasons. Almost two-thirds of the respondents to a recent informal survey don't own a smartphone.
Why not? Ease of use, price, and battery life are some of the concerns. “If the phone and the PDA are the same device, I cannot write and talk on the phone at the same time,” says Benedict J. Frederick III, CCIM, of Ben Frederick Realty in Baltimore. “Actually I could with an earpiece, but I don't usually walk around with the earpiece.”
“From a price/functionality standpoint, this category needs to evolve a bit more before I'd consider its use,” says David C. Mayo, CCIM, principal of Vector Realty Advisors in Louisville, Ky. “Most run the Palm operating system, which is less useful than PC 2002.” He also finds them too expensive and bulky, and powering color screens and multiple functions drains battery life.
These commercial real estate professionals aren't alone in their hesitancy to join the neophyte smartphone revolution. Only about 3 percent of Americans currently use smartphones, according to Zanthus, a high-tech consulting company in Portland, Ore. But that most certainly will change as prices fall.
The Converts Speak UpCommercial real estate professionals who do use smartphones like them — a lot. Skip Duemeland, CCIM, owner of Duemelands Realty in Bismarck, N.D., uses an Audiovox Thera. “High-quality color screen, Windows operating system, all 1,400 names from my Act! contact list, Word, Excel, backlight, private earphone and microphone, notes, external 32-megabyte memory that is expandable, cigarette-lighter charging stand, external conference microphone, Internet Explorer, terminal services client, and e-mail, all in one package — unbelievable!” he says.
“I have a Kyocera smartphone, which has terrific functionality,” says D. Scott McLain, CCIM, owner of
Coldwell Banker Commercial McLain Real Estate in Huntsville, Ala. “This is a tri-band telephone, meaning that it handles analog, digital, and PCS [personal communication services] calls. This is useful in a secondary or rural area. I also love access to my calendar and contact information while talking on the phone.”
McLain's phone is loaded with the Palm operating system, as well as a speakerphone, and Internet and e-mail capabilities. He has synchronized it with Act! and Ares, although it “was tricky and required my computer guru to set up the first time,” he says. He also loaded the Landware Palm financial calculator, which mimics the HP 12c, his favorite.
Frank Pipgras, CCIM, of Aguer Pipgras Associates in Sacramento, Calif., also uses the Kyocera and is upgrading to the newer 7135 model, which features a color screen with a flip-phone design. He finds the older model's black-and-white screen “difficult to read at certain light levels.”
The Kyocera 7135 represents a new round of improved models for use with third generation, or 3G, networks that provide faster Internet connection speeds. (See “Deciphering Cell Phone Lingo” sidebar.)
Waiting to buy a 3G-enabled smartphone might not be a bad idea, based on the experience of Scott M. Andrews, CCIM, principal of the Nashoba Group in Cordova, Tenn. He bought a Samsung SPH-I300, a 2G phone, “which means the Web browser and e-mail operate at a maximum 14.4 [kilobits per second] — pretty darn slow in this high-speed connectivity world.”
Along with McLain, Andrews also decries the complexity of syncing up with an Act! contact database. “This setup for synchronization requires tweaking of at least five programs or add-ins,” he says. “The documentation for Act! Palm Pilot link is 15 pages. This needs to evolve to a more transparent product.”
In addition, the I300 requires a stylus to use the contact look-up program, “which is difficult and dangerous when driving,” he says. “A $10 add-in program called Takephone makes look-ups simple, and the screen buttons are large enough to be manipulated by hand.” (See “Making Smartphones Smarter” sidebar.)
He suggests that buyers look for voice-activated dialing, which is available on the newer Samsung SPH-I330 model, along with Web-browsing speeds of around 50Kbps to 60Kbps. Although those speeds do not come close to the promised 3G standard of 114Kbps, they are about average even for the newest phones, according the experts. Faster speeds are more dependent on improved networks than better phones.
Despite the drawbacks of his experience, Andrews still touts the convenience of a smartphone. “While you can't yet do a PowerPoint presentation with them, I would rather have a desktop PC and a smartphone for the same money as a laptop,” he says.
Making the JumpThose who see a smartphone in their future first should check with their wireless service providers to see what models are supported. Not all smartphones or features are available in all areas, and not all carriers provide nationwide 3G capability.
Second, check your budget against your needs. Most smartphones start around $500, and that doesn't include wireless service, not to mention add-on charges for text messaging and other services. Given the total cost, maybe juggling a PDA and cell phone for a little while longer makes sense until prices drop.
Third, check your PDA operating system. Currently most smartphone makers — Handspring, Kyocera, and Samsung — use the Palm platform. However, not all smartphones use the most recent version of Palm, nor are they all upgradeable.
The Audiovox Thera and T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone, which look more like PDAs than cell phones, both run the Windows Pocket PC operating system. Joining the PC line this spring are the Hitachi Communicator and the Samsung SPH-I700, both sporting slimmer, more phone-like designs. Sony Ericsson and Nokia use the Symbian operating system, which supports Microsoft applications such as Word and Excel.
Finally, moving to a smartphone requires changes in behavior, such as using an earpiece or voice-activated dialing, or just getting used to a device that may be bulkier than a typical cell phone and heavier than a PDA. Some models have built-in keypads, others sport on-screen keys. Either way, your ability to punch in a phone number or message may depend more on latent small-motor skills than the phone model. Try several models before making a choice.
The Next Big ThingDespite current consumer apprehension, most tech watchers see smartphones as the next big thing in our technology-laden society. Already popular in Europe and Asia, smartphones are expected to dominate the world cell phone market by 2008, according to Allied Business Intelligence, an Oyster Bay, N.Y., technology research company.
While the Zanthus survey indicates that most consumers are looking for a mobile phone first and a PDA second, the responses from business professionals indicate a desire to use smartphones as mobile platform devices similar to laptop computers. The top features on business users' wish lists include expansion slots for add-on applications and extra memory, an infrared port, the ability to sync with Microsoft Outlook and Lotus Notes, and the ability to automatically locate the fastest available Internet connection. Most of those features are found on the current round of smartphones, although the ability to access the Internet quickly depends on location and cellular service.
Of course, the feature most new smartphones hype these days — digital cameras — seems to ignore what business users want. While the Handspring Treo 300 was the first smartphone to have a digital camera add-on, the Samsung SPH-I700 and Hitachi Communicator feature integrated digital cameras, as does the Sony Ericsson P800. Camera buff McLain likes the idea of a camera bundled into a smartphone, but thinks the picture quality would be poor. Instead, he would like to see pagers incorporated into smartphones. “I would like to have the ability to give a number to folks to page me, and then have my cell phone buzz or otherwise alert me. I don't routinely give out my cell phone number … because it rings, interrupting the focus of my current conversation or activity. I am happy, though, to receive a quiet page in my pocket.”