By Guy Clapperton

If you read the IT press you’ll have heard that Dell decided to wind its Axim range of hand-held computers in April. They’ll be winding the things down, in spite of launching them to a lot of noise a few years back and touting them as the natural replacement for the iPaq and the Palm.

Yes, I said iPaq, not iPod. People forget that before there was Pod there was Paq; a hand-held organiser that could carry Word and Excel documents among other things and basically make your entire life portable. The concept was pioneered in the early nineties, not by Compaq which actually brought the most popular iteration of the idea to the market but by Apple, whose ‘Newton’ product was no doubt extremely clever but which died the death. Pretty horribly.

The problem was that outside a few industries in which data collection on foot is an absolute must (your gas inspector probably still uses an iPaq) the hand-held never really found a niche outside the executive gadget. Granted, a diary with an alarm was always useful and the fact that some of them started to have GPS built in was a bonus, but somehow these things on a hand-held never became mainstream. And there was one reason for that.

Phones got smarter.

Yes there are smartphones. The sort that have all the gadgetry and software compatibilities you’d expect from a full-blown hand-held Palm or Windows PC are certainly around — 02 still sells the XDA and Orange will happily flog you a Treo with a diary, Word compatibility and a great deal else. But here we’re talking about the bogstandard phone. The one you slip into your pocket and which is probably free with the contract.

Let’s look at my own phone. It’s a Sony Ericsson K800i. I’m a moderate user considering it’s both my work and social mobile, so my £60 per month isn’t extreme — and they sent me the phone for nothing with my contract. So, a quick check on functions:

• Diary — yes
• E-mail — yes, and I can reply although I have to use text on a numeric keypad
• Contacts — Yes
• Camera — 3.2 megapixels
• MP3 player — yes
• Radio — yes
• Storage — yes, with a memory card

In fact it’s only when it comes down to extensive data entry and reading attachments that this phone is in any way inferior to a full-blown hand-held computer (it doesn’t do GPS but some phones do). So the decision I have is whether a bit of finessing around data entry — for which I’d be more comfortable in front of a laptop anyway — is actually worth the £200-odd I’d pay for a hand-held. Given that a basic laptop computer is around £100 more you can see the way the conversation’s going to go.

Dell says it’s end-of-lifing the Axim. My guess is that a lot of other manufacturers will very soon be doing the same.

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