Sidekick II: The Danger Evolution

SidekickIIWhat do all-star shortstop Derek Jeter, skateboarding lord Tony Hawk, and Tinseltown’s hard drinking, starlet-of-the-moment, Lindsey Lohan, have in common? Turns out they’re all big fans of the Danger Hiptop, also known as the T-Mobile Sidekick. Well, now the folks at T-Mobile are hoping to attract a new group of A-listers with their newest release, the Sidekick II. Designed by Danger and built by Japanese electronics giant Sharp, the newest Sidekick is a slick update of a device that won many a design award…even if it wasn’t the best functioning phone out there.

Let’s start with the updates. The Sidekick II, which will be available “in early fall” on the T-Mobile network according to Danger CEO Hank Nothaft, is about 25 percent smaller than its predecessor, while retaining most of the original design elements such as the swivel screen. Some of the most frequent complaints about the original – namely, that many of the controls, such as the volume control were behind the flip screen and only useable if the screen was swiveled out – have been fixed. Page up/down buttons have been added to facilitate web-browsing (though the scroll wheel will work too), and there are two additional, programmable buttons to allow easy access to applications such as email. The latest Sidekick also sports an integrated VGA camera, perfect for snapping shots of celebrities in compromising positions and such.

But, perhaps the biggest problem with the Sidekick remains, for the immediate future: The lack of a vibrant ecosystem of applications, such as the ones that have sprung up around Palm and PocketPC devices. While Danger does have a SDK available, and are compatible with Java, they are not yet compliant so the platform is still, for all intents and purposes, closed. Nothaft says the issue is being addressed and that the problem will be solved soon. Stay tuned. In terms of other updates, Danger says an EDGE-compliant device and built-in Bluetooth are additional options being considered for future devices. The company also plans to release a tri-band device that will work in the 850MHz band as well.

In short, the new Sidekick is a promising device, and one that’s bound to sell well. Sharp, in both Europe and Japan, has proven its ability to make quality devices, so that partnership should be a lucrative one for Danger. And if they can just break out of their walled-garden application environment, and let folks start pushing the limits and creating new apps for the Sidekick, the future looks even brighter.

Guest column by Matt Maier, wireless and gizmos writer for Business 2.0

Carrier: T-Mobile // Price: $299 // Tri-Band GSM/GPRS (1900/1800/900)