Can VoIP Softphones Breathe Life Into PocketPC?

by Ted Wallingford

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The PocketPC has so much novelty--you can run a tiny version of Doom on it. You can play small MPG and AVI files on it. You can even tote around MP3s if you like.
But novelty may be the best thing the PocketPC has going for it. Where's the substance? I've often questioned the ultimately usefulness of the PocketPC platform. For all its smallness, it's a rather inconvenient little beast, indeed. A combination of problems have combined to spoil the PocketPC's promise when it comes to business apps. I tried two different SQL Server-based data collection applications designed for collecting field time sheets at a construction company, and I discovered:

  • PocketPCs aren't rugged enough. Don't you dare put it in your butt pocket.
  • That screen is just too small for any useful reporting. It almost always gave me a headache.
  • These days, a lot of people who are candidates for a PocketPC already have a laptop, so why bother? Do they really need to carry two devices?
  • With all that Windows bulk and API overhead, can a high-speed database application really run on a PocketPC? It would seem not.
  • Handwriting recognition on PocketPC just doesn't work unless you've the handwriting of a third-grade language teacher.
  • TabletPCs do everything a PocketPC does, PLUS run win32 apps at a speed that puts comparable PocketPC software to shame.

So how useful can these pricey little trinkets really be?
It seems Skype and Xten Networks think PocketPCs could serve a noble purpose as VoIP endpoints, and they've developed softphones for PocketPC to prove the point. This could be a really cool thing, especially for enterprise VoIP over WiFi. Imagine walking around the building with a fully-programmable VoIP business phone the size of your wallet at your disposal.
Skype's PocketPC softphone is proprietary, and Xten's uses SIP, the prevailing open signaling standard for telephony. Skype is free and doesn't offer two-way connectivity to the public telephone system. Xten's is commercial and does offer inbound and outbound public network calling, by way of SIP proxies or SIP service providers like Voicepulse and Broadvoice.
Of course, there's the inevitable issue of running a softphone on a PocketPC-based cellphone. Kind of like running Linux on VirtualPC for the Mac.

With 3G networks growing, 802.11b wireless VoIP phones, and inexpensive cellphones everywhere, is there really a use for VoIP on PocketPC devices, or is it just novelty like micro-Doom?


2004-09-09 11:40:46
PocketPC Battery Life
The real problem, aside from all of the usability isses that you mentioned, is that PocketPC handhelds have super-crappy battery life.

I can leave my Samsung GSM phone on for 6+ days without recharging it. You can't leave a PocketPC on for two straight hours without recharging.

Not sure about newer handspring/palm units that have faster processors and better graphics. I do know that the Sharp Zaurus unit that I used for a while was really cool but also suffered from abominable battery life.