Nokia answers business call

With support for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPRS, Nokia's latest smartphone is a significant improvement, and is likely to prove popular among business users, writes Bill Pechey

Nokia recently announced its Communicator 9500 smart-phone - welcome news to the many fans of its previous communicators, the 9000, 9110 and 9210.

When the 9000 was launched in 1996, it was greeted with astonishment - how could a mobile phone and a PDA with a proper keyboard be squeezed into such a small space? Even today's kids, who laugh at the size of the 9000, are still surprised when it opens up to reveal the keyboard and big screen.

The 9110, announced in 1998, was a bit smaller but failed to add much in the way of features and only made cellular calls in countries using the 900MHz band.

The 9210 followed in 2000, upgrading to a colour screen and the Symbian operating system, but omitting GPRS connectivity. Many Psion users bought the 9210 because it gave them a user interface similar to their trusty PDAs with a decent mobile phone built in.

Since its launch, the 9210 has not been broadly adopted for major business applications, such as mobile email, probably because of its lack of GPRS support. Instead competitors such as the RIM Blackberry device and to a lesser extent the Microsoft OS devices have captured this market.

If the announced specifications are anything to go by, the 9500 will be a major step forward. It has GPRS, of course, but also Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity. This combination of features is, I think, unique, and ought to form the basis for many useful business functions. It should be possible, for example, to have your email delivered by Wi-Fi or Bluetooth when in the office, and by GPRS when on the road.

The 9500 also has good video facilities with several codecs built-in. BT Labs has demonstrated an implementation of the new H.264 decoder on other Symbian OS phones, providing acceptable real-time video at GPRS rates.

I doubt that the 9500 has enough horsepower for a real-time H.264 encoder but, if the decode can be ported to the 9500, it would be possible for a user to watch a business video conference and make comments using audio.

Like previous Nokia communicators, the 9500 is an open system so it is straightforward to write custom software for it. Programmers can write in C++ or various flavours of Java. I understand that the Psion/Symbian OPL language will be available as an add-on, if not from Nokia, then from a group of enthusiasts who have picked up work on OPL since Symbian made it open source.

I think Nokia has got it right and the 9500 will be widely used in the business world. The feature set will also attract other users and contribute to its overall success.

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