Research In Motion, makers of the enormously popular Blackberry e-mail devices, is working out a reference design which other manufacturers can use to include the capabilities of the BlackBerry in their own devices. As a part of that program, Analog Devices will develop a custom-designed integrated processor that supports wireless communications and Java applications on a single chip.
This offering follows two trends within the communications and information devices markets: First it follows the trend toward multi-function devices where several previously separate devices are combined into one device. Most cellular phones have some Internet and e-mail capabilities and a number of PDAs are or will include wireless access capabilities. Second it follows the trend toward making functionality a comodity. Rather than producing a single device that performs the specific function, the functionality itself is sold to a number of device makers. This is similar to the Pocket PC specifications which multiple manufactures use to create different machines, and Palm’s licensing its operating system and technology to other manufacturers.
I’m not convinced that this type of convergence, where devices assume more and more only slightly related functions, is ultimately useful. We’ve already seen that a combination PDA/Phone needs to be larger than a mere cellular phone in order to have a decent screen size. We’ve also seen that a manufacturer may only build in a subset of the full functionality we might get if we bought an add-in product. It’ll be an interesting race to see whether multi-function devices or increasingly connectable (by BlueTooth or some such) devices eventually win out.