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It's a phone, it's a computer -- no! It's your mobile device! (A comment on form factor)

You really can’t call mobile phones “phones” anymore, what with all the Web 2.0 applications springing up, such as FaceBook for BlackBerrys. These phones, or devices, have really become more like miniature computers, and this shift has its benefits and drawbacks.

I’m not suggesting the technology itself is a problem; what I mean is that users have to change the way they think about their devices. Even calling these devices “smartphones” does the products some disservice by keeping “phone” in the name. Sure, the device looks similar to a phone and it has voice capabilities, but that doesn’t mean a user can think it is merely a phone.

What happens is that users may often practice the same disregard for their mobile device that they would their old cellular phone, like leaving it in their hotel room or cab, or wherever you’ve lost a phone before. (I’ve had the strange misfortune of dropping mine into a bowl of soup.)

When we lose mobile devices, it presents a very real threat for enterprises: whatever corporate information is stored in the device can be compromised. It may not be the end of the world (depending on what mobile security precautions you’ve put in place beforehand), but treating a mobile device like a phone can cost a company.

The conundrum at the other end of the spectrum lies in thinking your mobile device is a computer. I know people don’t use these two words interchangeably or have a sudden relapse and think their computer is a phone. What I mean is that we want to do all the computer-esque actions on our devices — such as typing — and this is physically impossible. In this way, a handheld is very much like a spork: A spork saves you the trouble of carrying a fork and a spoon, but fails to really fork your meal or contain liquids; a mobile device brings portability to network data, but seriously lacks keyboard functionality and ergonomic earpieces (they’re about as comfortable as pressing a brick to your head).

I find a lot of irony in the fact that we want, and still try, to type on our handhelds. Logically, whatever we’re typing on must expanse the length of our two hands across — and this optimal typing size (we’ll say 11″x4″) could never fit into the palms of our hands. How will a handheld contain something at least twice the size of the hand (and fit into a pocket or purse)?

There are some remedies for the situation: foldout keyboards, for example — but having this extra piece of equipment does bulk up your load. Unless you have the deep pockets of a trench coat (which I’ve seen many a techie wear) it’s inconvenient to bring a foldout keyboard with you everywhere. QWERTY keys on smartphones work faster than traditional touch-dial phones, but typing with thumbs severely sacrifices the speed you get out of typing with all 10 fingers. Let’s not forget voice recognition software either; it has come a long way and might be the best solution for this problem.

If you’ve had no issues with the form factor of your mobile device, by all means, stop me now. There are plenty of wish-list gadgets out there that work great. But if you’re struggling like the rest of us, I’m all ears to your horror story or solution. Maybe we’re stuck for now — until someone invents an inflatable keyboard.

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