Back to Contents of Issue: March 2000

Married at Last: the PDA and Keitai

by Tom Spargo

Many people who require mobility to do their jobs own two devices: a PDA (personal digital assistant) and a wireless phone. It has been that way for several years and, as a mobile professional, I've often wondered when these devices would finally be merged. Despite attempts by wireless phone and PDA manufacturers to address this situation, nothing has been able to succeed in the market.

Recently, however, I was introduced to the heads of one of Japan's latest Net ventures, P.I.M. is a joint venture involving Dennotai and several other IT companies (including Hotline, Galileozest, Yellnet, and Angel Securities). P.I.M.'s concept is simple but efficient -- it provides a server that manages your address book and calendar, both of which are accessible via a Net-connected phone. As long as you have your phone or a computer connected to the Net, you have no need for a PDA. But P.I.M. isn't stopping with just PDA-style applications. Its server, known as DoSule, offers local entertainment information and email. The best part of DoSule is that it's free -- the company plans to make its money on advertising.

I remember thinking that Nokia had finally come up with the PDA/wireless solution back in 1997 with the Nokia Communicator. Watching The Saint, I was amazed to see Simon Templar (played by Val Kilmer) using a wireless phone that opened up to reveal a minicomputer with email and some basic application software. I waited anxiously for Nokia's Communicator to hit the market, but then I saw the price tag -- almost double the price of the two devices combined. So much for the economies of combinations.

In late 1998, we began hearing about the WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)-compatible OSes and applications being developed for the wireless phone. I soon realized that a solution could potentially come from an ASP (application service provider) providing WAP applications, though I never imagined where and when this would happen.

The main limitation of P.I.M.'s offering is that the phone must be able to connect to a wireless carrier. In Japan, where mobile phones are being used by more than 50 million customers, access is not a problem in most major urban centers. But for the user who needs guaranteed, full-time access, P.I.M. may not be an option; it won't work once you're outside of the local calling area, or on a plane. Another issue is that you can't hold a voice conversation and access your scheduler at the same time -- an important feature when you need to record data during a conference call (although this issue could be easily addressed by an earphone and two separate phone channels -- one for voice and one for data).

P.I.M. is currently available only in Japan, and runs in Japanese. The challenge for the company will be to implement a successful strategy for Japan while plotting a course for localization in other countries. However, competition will be fierce and will come from many sectors. Yahoo in the US will be a direct competitor to P.I.M.'s server-based PDA model. Yahoo recently acquired device access specialist Online Anywhere in an effort to make My Yahoo available via wireless phone. Sprint PCS recently unveiled its NeoPoint -- an all-in-one wireless phone with a built-in PDA. Qualcomm is taking the direct approach by merging the Palm Pilot with a phone in its new pdQ phone. Nokia still has its Communicator, which features fax, phone, email, Internet browsing, and a PDA.

I believe that P.I.M.'s success in Japan and around the world will ultimately be decided by the results of a battle being waged in both the wired and wireless world -- thin client versus fat client. In the wired world, the thin client has continually suffered defeat at the hands of dropping memory and storage prices. Universal access to broadband is still many years away, adding further difficulties to thin-client adoption. In the wireless world, the fat clients like the bulky and expensive Nokia Communicator have also been winning. But in major cities around the world, wireless access is becoming commonplace, and with third-generation (3G) wireless standards being adopted worldwide (led by Japan), broadband wireless access will soon be available at 2 Mbps. In such an environment, thin-client applications like P.I.M.'s DoSule will stand a good chance.

Tom Spargo is president of (, a San Francisco-based venture that assists e-businesses with globalization.

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