What I Saw at PC Expo 2000 (Day One)
Exclusive to Palm InfoCenter
Palm InfoCenter reporter Mike Cane is at the PC Expo in New York and he submitted this brief report from the show floor. Ryan will be attending PC Expo on Wednesday. He will add details to this report with his own report, as well as, it is hoped, provide news about the many things Mike did not see.
This report was greatly updated and hugely expanded at midnight Eastern U.S. time. If you read the previous version, you should read this one, too, because it contains a tremendous amount of new information.
First things first: Where's the QuickLink Pen review? Several months ago, Palm Infocenter did a sneak peek of the Palm-compatible QuickLink Pen, which does beamable OCR to any PalmOS PDA. Since then, silence. That silence has not been for lack of work on the review, I assure you. Rather, it has to do with the constant upgrade and improvement process of WizCom Technologies. Just when I'm ready to get everything in order for a review, I am told to wait for an imminent upgrade which will change the entire nature of the review! For those who have been waiting to see if this device is worth buying, I hereby give the bottom line: Go buy it! It works! It is not flawless (no OCR can ever be, given the vagaries of typesetting), but I have myself scanned close to 500K worth of text for my own use as part of the reviewing process. Yes: close to *one-half meg* of text. (Details of that text will be in the review.) It is bargain-priced for what it delivers and Visor owners should absolutely *not* wait for a Springboard if they need OCR *today.* (As if the software upgrades weren't enough, WizCom has also upgraded the *optics* of their QuickLink Pen too!)
That said, I had an interesting talk with He Who Must Be Obeyed at Wizcom Technologies, outlining his global strategy for the company. I am terrible at getting names, so I hope I'm not stepping on any toes when I say I think his name was David Gal. I cannot share the details of his plans, but it is an intriguing one that is global in scope and quite different than what I had imagined (he had to drag me into his vision kicking and screaming). In fact, it opens up a very different view of the future than any I had myself imagined. A word to Microsoft: Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. And as for Palm: the same.
My talk with him only highlighted the variety of competing forces at work to shape our digital future. Just when you think it's going one way, the other shoe drops. Like Palm seemingly snubbing Sony and going with the SD storage format instead of Memory Stick! This is VHS versus Beta all over again (with the same Japanese players! Won't Sony ever get a break?). And if you thought that was bad, wait: what Bob Fullerton of Innogear told me will make you want to catch your breath!
SONY: Yes, they showed their PalmOS PDA "prototype." And yes, it was indeed "under glass." In fact, they had two of them under glass (each in a different area of their pavilion)! The problem with viewing something under thick plexiglas is refraction. Dimensions change from different viewing angles. They could at least have had one person holding it in his hand, even if it was chained to his wrist, just so we could hold up our Palms and Visors for dimensional comparisons. Sony was extremely tight-lipped about this device. I was told it is as wide as the Palm V form factor. It has less depth than a III series form factor. There is indeed an IR port at the top left of the unit. Surprisingly, I was told this unit will be available in both monochrome and color screen versions. What sort of built-in RAM will it have? Eight megs? Sony wouldn't even comment on that. And forget getting any details of how exactly the Memory Stick files are addressed by the PalmOS! Serial or USB port? Unknown -- but close scrutiny of the cradle revealed a "nub" that might imply the prototype has USB (a nub is used on Visor cradles). Given that Palm has just endorsed SD, the very idea of a Sony PalmOS unit now seems rather strange, if not sad. Although Sony displayed a variety of possible uses for the Memory Stick form factor -- these included such incredibly wonderful things as an FM broadcast data tuner, still digital camera, digital video camera, GPS, and a TV tuner(!) -- the spokesperson had to admit these were possible applications and could not confirm if Sony itself had even created any working prototypes. For Sony's PalmOS PDA to gain any sort of foothold, they'd need to have at least the Memory Stick-sized devices I've mentioned. With just additional storage as its main selling point, the Sony PDA will fall rather flat (why? See what Bob Fullerton said to me, later).
MODEM MANIA: Both Xircom and CardAccess displayed Springboard modems for the Visor. Xircom's will ship for $149 in August at 56K speed, while the CardAccess Thincom at $119 is available now at just 33.6K speed (with a planned downloadable software upgrade to 56K speed). Of the two, the form factor advantage clearly goes to CardAccess's ThinCom modem, which is no larger than a standard Springboard Backup module! The Xircom bulges with a "humpback," its power supplied by either 3 AAAs or a StarTAC cellphone battery. The Thincom modem requires a "dongle" (additional connector) to plug into an RJ-11 jack, while the Xircom has both an RJ-11 *and* cellphone jack built in. Add to these two modems Handspring's own modem and Innogear's upcoming SixPak -- not to mention wireless options (discussed next) -- and Visor owners will have more choices than any other PDA owners.
WIRELESS: Novatel displayed their wireless Springboard modem, which will be used by both OmniSky and wireless Net provider GoAmerica. I was rather crushed to witness the bulkiness of this unit (see photo at right). It is not comfortably pocketable as I had hoped. It adds depth as well as on-top length to a Visor. (To my great surprise, the Palm V series and OmniSky modem fit easily into my shirt pocket.) It is still 19.2kpbs, a limitation of current-generation CDPD itself. Given the currently popularity of OmniSky among Palm aficionados, I expect OmniSky to become the leading wireless provider to PalmOS devices. What about Palm? Didn't they announce something? What did it look like? What will it cost? Good questions! Ryan will answer those tomorrow or Thursday -- no doubt with pictures. For all the alleged hoopla of Palm's announcement, I saw no evidence of their wireless modem at their pavilion! I would have expected to have been bludgeoned with its omnipresence. Not so. It is a sorry state when a writer can walk through a company's pavilion and not be run over by five PR flacks as they leap to call to his attention their company's latest product and/or announcement!) Another wireless provider is GlenAyre, with its Springboard module and wireless @ctivelink service. The module itself is frightful looking, jutting over an inch from the top of a Visor. Its advantage is its own power supply (2 AAAs) which allow text messages to be received while the SB is out of the Visor's slot. Also in the wireless info fray is CUE Corporation with its CUE Satellite Radio Network, offering FM radio broadcasts, traffic alerts, weather forecasts, text paging, email alerts, and more.
GPS: Being a city dweller, GPS is not something that can excite me. I navigate via a well-known grid and can't see the reason for assistance via satellite. It would take a lot to even get me to notice a GPS product. Well, GeoDiscovery is offering the Geode Springboard module, which does indeed have the distinction of being the first GPS product to awaken my interest. The module itself is very large, more for storing a in backpack than a pocket. But the Net-delivered service is intriguing because it allows contributions from users. Let's say you're a used-book store fanatic who's been to five different cities and used the GeoDiscovery service to add great bookstores to your map, which you can share with others. In this fiction, coincidentally, I am going to the very same five cities you did. With the maps you have added to, I now have a terrific guide to the very things I wish to find, all from someone else who shares my passion.
INNOGEAR: Months have passed since all of us had our appetites whetted by word of the MiniJam MP3 player and SixPak Springboard modules. Why has it been taking so long?! "Component shortages," said Innogear's people. What is going on that suddenly everything is in short supply? I truly doubt the "popularity hypothesis" -- oh, so many companies want these things, we producers have just been caught flat-flooted! Sure, the oil companies can use the same excuse too. Could it be that oil has its OPEC and we in digital land are seeing the first signs of a CHIPEC? That would be frightening. On a happier note, I saw the MiniJam in virtually finished form. It has been worth the wait! It is comfortably pocketable and just amazing. Turn off the Visor, and it can still play. Pop out of the play app and consult the calendar -- and it still plays! It will have *two* MultiMedia Card (MMC) slots; one which is hidden on the underside of the unit ("sandwiched" between the module and the Visor back) and one outside towards the unit's bottom. With MMCs ranging in size to at least 64 megs, imagine having 128 megs of music! But wait! There's more. The MiniJam will also have the ability to display ebooks. And perhaps other Palm-format files as well. It was put to me like this by Bob Fullerton: "You can get a $179 two-meg Visor and with an MMC reader Springboard module, you can add more storage capability than you could imagine." And Innogear is going to release such MMC-reading Springboards, under the overall banner of "InnoPak." An Innopak is a Springboard module that contains 2 megs of Flash RAM as well as at least one additional function. Currently, we can point to the Innopak/2V, which contains 2 megs of Flash as well as a vibrating alarm. Other such combos will follow in the months ahead (one of which will be a modem). But just think of an Innopak/MMC (let's call it) -- why bother with a TRGPro or even the Sony Memory Stick PalmOS unit? Massive storage will be a reality on the Visor too, all thanks to Innogear.
STINGER: Fans of the David Lynch movie adaptation of Frank Herbert's classic novel "Dune" will immediately understand the reference to a Gom Jabbar, wielded by a Bene Gesserit. It looks like a needle worn on the fingertip. Now comes a plastic fingertip stylus called the Stinger! Orbit Industries was giving away free samples of this accessory. It is planned to be in stores in 3-packs priced at $5.00.
NON-PALM (at least not yet...) ITEMS
THUMBDRIVE: In person and working was the USB-connected ThumbDrive, touted by Q-Tek International LLC as the "world's smallest storage device." Well, perhaps Sony can boast that of its Memory Stick, but the ThumbDrive has USB connectivity. This is solely for Windows 98 users, but still an item that elicits interest when seeing it in person.
RUBBER KEYBOARD: Man & Machine, Inc. displayed rollable plastic keyboards that actually work! Waterproof, dust-resistant, totable in a bag by rolling them up, this was quite a sight. Currently they have a PS/2 port, with USB on the way. But I could see a Palm/Visor-compatible one giving both Targus and Landware some very interesting competition.
FURNITURE FOR ALL (almost)
ICOM: New Spec, Inc. was showing iMac-colored workstations, called iComs, made of durable plastic from Comta. These are available in navy blue, orange, light blue, and red (iMac users can substitute the fruitier terms for these colors). At $349, they are not cheap, but complement iMacs very nicely.
LAPSTATION: Intrigo was showing its Lapstation, a foldable, lightweight totable, and sturdy base for laptop/notebook users. Even as a Palm user, my attention was caught by this. Given the amount of material I sometimes deal with (especially when scanning), I sometimes wind up in a comfortable chair with my Palm, surrounded by a sloppy pile of papers and books. A Lapstation, even for a PalmOS user, could provide a better way to corral spreading papers and books. These won't be cheap, however, as their target market are those who shop at, say, Sharper Image stores.
Both Palm and Handspring had large, complex pavilions. They should have had maps ready. The layouts were confusing and I nearly missed key items because of the sprawl.
There was one thing missing from PC Expo this year that would have cinched the excitement surrounding the great things happening for the Handspring Visor: the introduction -- or even the rumor -- of a *color* Visor. OmniSky for Visor is interesting, but OmniSky on a *color* Visor would be absolutely compelling.
The possible entry (will it back out now that Palm has gone with rival SD?) of Sony into the PalmOS market can, it is hoped, only help. But it won't go far if the only Memory Stick options are file/data storage. Such a combo would have been exciting at last year's PC Expo, but not now, and not after Palm has seemingly embraced SD. Only a digital still video and digital moving video cameras can save it.
Where is Java for the PalmOS?! And when will we see Flash and Shockwave? Must we first have StrongARM chips and a new OS kernel?
Will OmniSky wake up and offer pre-pay plans like its cellphone cousins? I like OmniSky, but I don't use plastic. I'd like to buy a few months, or even a full year of service, in advance, in cash. (Bell Atlantic has just announced pre-pay long distance for home users, called "Pay-Talk-Talk-Talk" -- I didn't make any of that up!) OmniSky, make this happen!
I didn't bother to even seek out the PocketPC offerings from HP and Compaq. Who needs them? Who wants them? Innogear, Landware, WizCom, and OmniSky will make Visor owners of everyone! Now if only Handspring would go color...
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