Integrated Modular Smartphone?

The title of this blog might suggest that I’ve got mixed up between Integrated Modular Avionics (IMA) and consumer devices, but if you bear with me, I’ll try to explain why I think there are some parallels.

I was recently given a shiny new smartphone
(wikipedia), which will enable me to keep up to date with important emails when I’m out of the office, rather than get a couple of days behind which can happen  sometimes when I’m travelling.

Actually, I was quite pleased to receive the smartphone because, as an engineer, I like cool gadgets anyway, and also because it means that I am able to carry around one device instead of a mobile phone and a PDA. This will also please my wife, who complains that carrying all of these devices around is ruining the lining of my jackets. Anyway, there aren’t any suitable alternatives…unless you’re Joey Tribbiani in Friends (‘The One with Joey’s bag’, wikipedia).

Nokia 6319i, Palm Tungsten T5 and accessories
For the last few years, I’ve been using a Nokia 6310i mobile phone and a Palm Tungsten T5 PDA. They are both very competent at the providing the functions for which they were designed.

The 6310i is not the latest-and-greatest gadget phone by any means, but is an extremely capable business phone. It’s triband (works in Europe and the US), has excellent range, and the lithium ion battery can last nearly a week before needing to be recharged. It also has Bluetooth, Infra Red and GPRS enabling me to connect to my headset, laptop PC and the Internet.

I would be lost without my Tungsten T5, quite literally, because as well as having all the usual Palm applications (Contacts, Calendar, Memos, Tasks, Documents-To-Go, etc.), I also have TomTom Navigator in-car satellite navigation software and a portable Bluetooth receiver.

So, I had high hopes about the prospect of integrating all of this functionality onto a single device, enabling me to carry less with me in my jackets, and also fewer chargers and cables in my laptop bag.  In this respect, the smartphone can be viewed as reducing SWaP (Space, Weight and Power), by integrating the functionality of multiple federated devices but on a single integrated modular system.

However, after having spent some time using the smartphone, I realized that it wasn’t performing as well as I would have liked, in two areas:

  1. Power consumption
    I expected that the smartphone would have greater power consumption than my
    Nokia 6310i, but I was surprised by the fact that if I have Bluetooth
    (for headset) or GPRS (for email) enabled for any length of time, the
    battery drains very rapidly indeed. This means that the smartphone barely last 24 hours between recharging which severely limits its usability. I’m surprised that the software isn’t optimised to automatically put some of the devices into low-power mode when not in use.
  2. Application integration and portability
    I had kept all my contacts in my Palm Tungsten PDA, and I wanted to migrate all of this data to Microsoft Outlook on the smartphone, but despite there being options to export and import data between the applications in several formats (e.g. comma separated, tab separated), these could not handle records with fields in different orders and sometimes partially complete records. In addition, the smartphone will not import the contacts from my SIM card into the Outlook address book, which means when someone in my SIM card calls me, their number is displayed but not their name. Overall, my contact and address data is fragmented in multiple locations, with has the potential for duplication and inconsistencies.

I couldn’t help thinking of the differences between my experience with of rather poor integration with the smartphone, and what’s being achieved with Integrated Modular Avionics and ARINC 653 (see my earlier post ‘ARINC653 software weighs less‘ for details). Firstly, IMA architectures are saving space and weight and power (the weight saving alone is around 500lbs on a some wide body jets);  and secondly, applications written by different parties (and even using different programming languages) can communicate with each other through ARINC 653 ports. I can’t help but think that the use and development of open standards such as ARINC 653 has got to be a significant factor in interoperability and portability. Maybe there’s a lesson there for smartphone manufacturers…