PC Expo 2000: Additions and Conclusions
Exclusive to Palm InfoCenter
Palm InfoCenter reporter Mike Cane attended the PC Expo in New York this week and this is the third in a series of reports from the show floor. If you haven't already, you should read the Day One amd Day Two reports.
YOUR FINAL WARNING: What I forgot to mention in my Day One report is that Innogear will initially sell its MiniJam MP3 Springboard via the Net. It will take quite some time before it appears in retail outlets. This is due to "component shortages" (ah, CHIPEC!). They will have a fixed number finished, ready to ship, and can only do so via the Net. Bob Fullerton said he's gearing up their site to handle the flood of orders. (Frankly, that's impossible; server capacity has to be like an infinite number: it can only grow!) If you want one, get in line fast!
RUBBER KEYBOARD: An astute Palm Infocenter reader reminded me that the roll-up rubber keyboards from Man & Machine, although wielding a PS/2 connector, can indeed be used with Palms. The solution is the Happy Hacking Cradle, which allows the use of any PS/2-connected keyboard.
FOLDING KEYBOARD AID: I forgot to mention that Keyboard Vision offers stick-on letters of increased visibility that might be of interest to users of the Targus/Stowaway/Palm Folding Keyboard. I saw them on such a keyboard and the heightened legibility was welcomed.
DVD: Although I have lusted after DVD, I haven't yet bought a player. Now I have a reason to be glad I haven't. Hitachi has announced a DVD-RAM digital camcorder, the model DZ-MV100, to be shipped in the US later this year. Its disks can be used in the next generation of home DVD player (the ones I will now wait to buy) as well as in all current PCs and Macs that support -- or can be made to support (via internal or external drives) -- the DVD-RAM standard. Finally, all of the home taping I've done on bulky VHS can be moved to DVD!
eBOOKMAN: At first glance, the Franklin eBookman's generous screen area inspires lust. After a moment of reflection, one has to see that the expanded screen area is possible because the four hardware buttons known to PalmOS (and even some PocketPC) users have been taken away. The only hardware button that remains on front (and that might prove to be a terribly inconvenient place) is the one for On/Off.
How practical is that? Doing away with the hardware buttons does away with an advantage currently enjoyed by PalmOS and PocketPC users: instant activation and access to applications via one-button press. This is a trade-off that might work against Franklin. Hardware buttons are also very useful for some games (and a read of my past article, "Palm Computing and the Promise of Real Convergence," will show that I now consider games one of the key driving forces of the future).
In terms of data input, I have grown to sometimes loathe the real estate grabbed by Palm's Graffiti box, and wish Palm (or a licensee) offered a model that borrowed the "soft input area" enjoyed by WinCE/PocketPC users. Graffiti, born for the Newton, began as a pop-up soft input area. On the Franklin eBookman, handwritten input remains as a "hard" area, perhaps to give potential buyers the seeming reassurance that the device itself is non-threatening and even possibly familiar; after all, they've probably seen someone else using a PalmOS unit at one time.
An examination of Franklin's Development Zone for their eBookman indicates they will not be content with simply competing in a confined e-book reader/kind-of-PDA space. They are trying to woo a variety of applications for the device. Clearly they believe they have the "next wave" of PDA and can take a good chunk out of current and future market shares of both PalmOS and PocketPC licensees.
This is an ambition that was shared by another Palm competitor that seems to have been already forgotten: Royal's daVinci PDA! The driving strategy behind Royal was to compete on price, expect to sell zillions, and the developers will hop on board. But that didn't happen. And Royal was nowhere to be seen at PC Expo.
Now it is Franklin's turn to do battle. They have -- already built into their device -- voice recording capability, digital audio/MP3 playback capability; a headphone jack; a resident dictionary that pops up in a split screen; and, at least in one model (probably the most expensive one), a slot for a MultiMedia Card. It also -- not shown in photos -- offers a protective flip lid (ala the Palm III form factor). It seems a formidable foe.
Perhaps even a bad stylus won't stop it. (I did not get to try the stylus, and am totally ignorant of what it is like. Perhaps it is good. One would hope so.)
And yet there are three key points that I've not yet seen addressed. And they all boil down to the most crucial aspect of technology today: Communication!
Has anyone yet noticed, point one, that the Franklin eBookman lacks an IrDA port? Yes, it is a locked-up unit in that respect. Have you just added a great freeware game or even added an address to the Address Book (oops! Franklin calls it Contacts) that you'd like to give to the eBookman user next to you? Sorry. Can't do it via beaming. And this is even more surprising for a device that is so geared towards text: it can't be used with a pocketable OCR device, such as Wizcom Technologies' QuikLink Pen, which has built-in IR transfer!
Has anyone yet noticed, point two, that the Franklin uses a USB connector and that no one has yet created a pocketable USB-connected modem? (Even pocketable serial modems for Palm usage go fast at online auction.) Palms -- and probably PocketPCs too -- can do emergency phone line HotSyncs. What if the eBookman -- a version lacking the MMC slot -- crashes away from its "mothership" computer? Stuck on vacation at the beach and all of that planned reading has gone to Electron Heaven.
Has anyone yet noticed, point three, that virtually everyone wants a pocketable device to connect to the Net and, ideally, to do so anywhere at anytime wirelessly? Novatel didn't create their latest Visor modem to mate to its USB connector. It's a Springboard connection. This is perhaps its fatal flaw. Most will recall the frenzy surrounding the release of a new Stephen King story to the Net. It was indeed a frenzy, with some servers crashing under the load. The Net is ideal for the one thing we Americans will perhaps always excel at: Instant Gratification. Imagine being an eBookman owner sitting next to an OmniSky-connected PalmOS owner, fuming while they download the latest hot King (or other prominent author's) story. Gratification delayed can too often become gratification denied. A customer once lost is lost virtually forever.
The excitement over the Franklin eBookman turns out to be literally screen-deep. It is a self-contained, self-referential, near-autistic device, incapable of communicating with the outside world. Perhaps Franklin will indeed sell many to those who have yet to personally experience a PDA. All they will accomplish is to become the training wheels for people to upgrade to the two wheelers from Palm and, yes, even PocketPC, licensees. Its only advantage is its larger screen. And any existing PDA manufacturer can soon enough offer that.
SONY: They have taken a page out of Handspring's book. Close examination of their icon area will reveal a circle that is half dark and light. This is a contrast control, first seen on the Visor. Having gutted Franklin's aspirations in the above analysis, it is again time to plunge the blade into Sony. Among the many potential Memory Stick applications, one is evident by its absence: a modem! And so Sony's road to success becomes even longer!
IN ABSENTIA: Aside from Royal and its daVinci PDA missing in action from PC Expo, another player that made a big splash last year was nowhere to be seen: Be, Inc! Linux was well-represented, even with vendors selling applications and -- did anyone actually buy one? -- stuffed penguin dolls. Be, where is thy Stinger? Similarly -- and strangely -- absent was Psion, Inc! What? Is the Revo such a smashing success that it doesn't jolly well need to be shown to new potential buyers? Or have they had enough of being asked about Macintosh compatibility, even at a PC show?
FINALLY: A word to Palm. If at next year's PC Expo, there are the same number of developers populating your pavillion, increase the floor space by at least 50%! And add more than one Front Desk. It wasn't until Day Two that I discovered there was indeed a Front Desk, with a map of the Escher-like pavillion. But a map does no good if the place is so packed that crowds from one developer are banging their backs against the crowd from another developer. PC Expo always falls on the most humid June days, and the Javits ventilation cannot cope. Let us not suffer again for our enthusiasm next year.
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