May 30, 2011 at 3:58 PM ET
One of the landmark devices of the mobile revolution, the T-Mobile Sidekick, will reach a milestone this week with the shutdown of the online service that has powered the iconic gadget for much of the past decade.
Users of Sidekicks released before this year will still be able to make calls and send text messages after Tuesday, but they will be left without the online engine that serves up contacts, photos, calendar entries, and other data-driven features. Anyone still clinging to those relics will experience a dramatic reduction in functionality. Without access to the contacts, for example, users of old Sidekicks will need to dial manually.
T-Mobile has already launched a new Sidekick using Google's Android mobile operating system, and the company has been prodding existing Sidekick users to upgrade to new devices and migrate their data. (Tip for existing Sidekick users who haven't yet done this: Log in at my.t-mobile.com to access the export tool. See this post on the unofficial TmoNews blog for more details.)
Why is this happening? Behind the scenes, T-Mobile is shifting away from servers operated by Danger Inc., the startup-turned-Microsoft-subsidiary that originally came up with the concept for the Sidekick a decade ago under the brand Hiptop. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft Corp. and NBC Universal.)
It's the end of an era for a product that opened many eyes to one of fundamental advances of our time — the concept that a phone, connected to the Internet, can be a lot more than a phone.
The Sidekick saga is worthy of a novel. Danger's platform was conceived by technology pioneers, embraced by celebrities, targeted by hackers and ultimately acquired by Microsoft before suffering a fall from grace in the form of a high-profile server meltdown.
Its rebirth on Android brings the Sidekick home to Andy Rubin, the Danger co-founder who also co-founded Android and now oversees Android development at Google. But the proposed purchase of T-Mobile USA by AT&T for $39 billion leaves the Sidekick’s future as uncertain as ever.
It's an important story that sheds light on some of the most significant technology trends of the past decade — the rise of the smartphone and cloud computing, growing public awareness of privacy concerns, and the risks and rewards of our increasingly mobile lives.