What I Also Saw at PC Expo 2000 (Day Two)
Exclusive to Palm InfoCenter
Prelude: Ryan attended PC Expo on Wednesday and might file his own report. It was a pleasure to finally meet him in person.
I did not, it turns out, miss much from my very limited survey on Day One. The most important item -- which I did miss yesterday -- leads this story. The remainder are curious odds and ends of general appeal, which even PalmOS owners would find of interest.
eBookman: Franklin Electronic Publishers, best known for previous dedicated-hardware devices for their proprietary card-format electronic books has jumped into the fray of pocketable e-book readers. And their device is clearly inspired by Palm's! There will be three versions of the eBookman:
$129.95 buys 8 megs of RAM. $179.95 adds to the above a backlight and "enhanced" screen and some bundled apps. $229.95 is a deluxe version offering 16 megs of RAM plus an "enhanced" backlight.
At least one (it is not clear if all) will feature a slot for a MultiMedia card for memory expansion.
All units feature a monochrome screen with 200x240 pixels, which is both wider and longer than a standard Palm/Visor display (and, in fact, PocketPC screens). A simulated screen displayed on a brochure squeezes a remarkable 45 characters across and 25 lines of text! Having so much screen real estate is quite breathtaking compared to a standard-issue Palm/Visor. A Palm Graffiti-like area takes up perhaps three quarters of an inch at the unit's bottom, with two icons on the left side (Home, Menu) clearly knocked-off from Palm's own design (I expect the lawyers will cause this to change before release). On the right is a cross-hair arrangement of arrows for Left-Right/Up-Down navigation.
In addition to reading ebooks in native Franklin format, compatibility with ebooks issued in Microsoft Reader format -- as well as palm DOC format -- was claimed. Plus, audio from Audible, Inc. as well as MP3 files can be played. As if this wasn't enough, Palm functionality such as Address (called Contacts), Datebook (called Schedule), and To Do (still called that) are included. Also built-in is a microphone for voice message recording. The handwriting recognition engine is smARTwriter from ART Technologies Power is supplied via 2 AAAs. Synchronization is handled by software provided by Pumatech, via USB port for Windows 98 only (or with a serial adapter for Windows 2000). No Macintosh compatibility is mentioned.
The OS is proprietary to Franklin, it seems, and runs on a RISC chip also proprietary to Franklin. The units will be available in a variety of colors, suitable to complement iMacs (although, again, no such compatibility is mentioned!).
This is a strange duck. Having seen a brief glimpse of the Palm-like apps, I am not bound to switch from Palm. The larger screen real estate is something that Palm itself -- or one of its licensees -- can also implement. Having tried smARTwriter with prior incarnations of WinCE, I'm grateful for Graffiti! In all, this is not a compelling product for existing PDA users (of either PalmOS or PocketPC camps). It will however pull the rug out from under the Rocketbook and that other dedicated ebook reader whose name I can never recall, and perhaps that is its target market. On the other hand, this could possibly appeal to the many millions out there who have yet to buy a PDA, but would like -- for whatever reason -- an ebook reader that is pocketable and inexpensive (two attributes lacking in the current two ebook devices). In that respect, it could steal future potential customers from both Palm and PocketPC markets. And with such a generous screen, it is difficult to see how people would then choose to upgrade to a PalmOS "real" PDA, given its limitations.
TRGPro: TRG was ensconced in that sprawling, confusing, claustrophobic Palm pavilion, demonstrating their TRGPro. It passed the "pocket test" spectacularly! I was quite surprised to find that it was *not* "humpbacked" at all, which was the impression given by owners and website photos. It has a gentle slope on its back, which is really quite unobtrusive and makes it virtually indistinguishable from holding any III-series Palm. If it was available in retail outlets -- even select ones -- it would provide true competition for current models out there. I can see the wild appeal of this unit.
POCKETPC: Yes, I gave in while doing a thorough patrol of the grid today and stopped to watch and to try two PocketPCs. The one from Hewlett-Packard and the one from Compaq. I still do not like the software; it is still sluggish; the layouts are still cluttered to the point of being a cross between autistic and dyslexic. In addition, the color screens, although offering higher resolution than PalmOS units, have a ghostly, ethereal quality that I suspect would induce eyestrain in me. The HP passed the pocket test. The Compaq, with its metal casing, could be classified as a lethal weapon! It is solid and I can see a good bash from it inflicting serious injury on human flesh (which brings to mind the thought of the repercussions of dropping it on one's toe). I expect these to have better appeal to current Windows experts, but I think the general public would still be intimidated by them. By this point, Microsoft will never get it right.
READERS: Microtech is offering a family of USB-connected media readers under the umbrella name of "Zio." They can be used by PC and Mac owners. There are readers/writers for CompactFlash, Smart Media, and MultiMedia Cards, each priced at $39.95 retail.
Casio was also showing off its wristwatch 16-grey-scale still camera! It was amazing. It will be introduced in September at $199.00 retail. Unfortunately, I was not able to see pictures displayed on anything other than its native tiny screen (which also acts as a real-time viewfinder!), so I have no idea of just how sharp or detailed such photos actually can be. I was assured that photos could be beamed to a PalmOS device, although such a demonstration could not be had at the time.
Kodak was demonstrating its PalmPix camera. True to Kodak's heritage, it produced images of greater sharpness and clarity than the Visor eyemodule camera. The Palm screen acts as a real-time viewfinder. Although pictures make the camera-Palm combo look like a kludge, seeing it in person was less startling. But what happens if Palm switches to USB ports? I'd like to see Kodak brings its fine imaging expertise to a Visor Springboard. The currently-offered eyemodule is a huge disappointment.
Having seen the PocketPC for myself, I am more convinced than ever that Handspring's Visor will eventually dominate the consumer market. Palm and the TRGPro will share the corporate market. Sony has a tough road ahead of it. Now, if only we can get a color Visor, pre-pay OmniSky, and Kodak Springboard camera!
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