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What I Also Saw at PC Expo 2000 (Day Two)

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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.

UNitech Juli
UNitech Juli
MP3: Everyone is jumping on the MP3 bandwagon. There were more models of MP3 players than PDAs! Casio is offering a $299.00 Wrist Audio Player, with 4 hours of battery life and the ability to play 33 minutes of sound at CD quality, 44 minutes at "near-CD," and 66 minutes at "FM broadcast-level quality." Sensory Science is offering the rave:mp player which has a built-in Iomega Clik! drive. It is a unit that is large compared to, say, Diamond's Rio. Archos will be offering their Jukebox 6000, an even larger unit than the rave:mp, with an incredible 6 gigabytes of memory ("6000 minutes of songs, up to 1500 songs") and 5-hour battery life for $399.00. Digitra is offering the MP-Trio which is about 1.5" wide and 2" high (precise metrics are 47mm x 54.5mm x 16.5mm, HWD). It contains 32 megs of flash, and can store files other than MP3. It contains an MMC slot, has USB connectivity, and is powered by a single AAA battery. Digitra touts it as the "world's smallest and lightest MP3 player," and that is so, given the other players at the Expo. And although that might be, the only MP3 player that truly excited me was the Juli from UNitech. Powered by a single AAA battery, with *two* MultiMedia Card slots, its curvy and compact design made it look like one of the virtual pets that were the big craze a few years back (specifically, the Tiger GigaPets). This is truly an MP3 player one could put on a keychain! It is also distinctive because it offers a tiny LCD display with backlighting! Unfortunately, no U.S. distributor has yet been signed for this wonderful little device that is expected to go for $200 retail. Aside from Innogear's MiniJam MP3 Springboard module for the Visor, this is the first MP3 player that has excited me.

ASSORTED NOTES:

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.

CONCLUSION

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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Wrong URL. for Microtech.

I.M. Anonymous @ 6/29/2000 2:38:40 AM #
The correct one should be:
http://www.microtechint.com/" CLASS=NEWS TARGET=_NEW>http://www.microtechint.com/
RE: Wrong URL. for Microtech.
Ed@PalmInfoCenter.com @ 6/29/2000 7:49:24 AM #
Thanks, I changed the link.
RE: Wrong URL. for Microtech.
mikecane@wildmail.com @ 6/29/2000 11:55:20 AM #
Yes, that was the wrong link and it was *my* error. I was exhausted when finishing the report and I was using a Microtech pricelist that did not contain any URL on it for reference. I should have caught that one myself because I had to learn that it's "microtechint" when researching readers in the past. Thanks for pointing that out and thanks to Ed for changing it (and getting the ART URL too!). mc

Pocket PC sluggish? You've got to be kidding me!

Steve Bush @ 6/29/2000 10:04:14 AM #
Your comments on the Pocket PC remind me of the time I talked to a couple of Amway people about the Home Shopping Network. Using the word "biased" would be an understatement. But the comment you made that Pocket PC is "sluggish" could not go without comment from me. Please tell me that you're kidding! I've got almost every PDA (it's my business to have them) and the new Pocket PC are in no way slow. At least try to give a fair assessment or skip the Scientology-like rhetoric.

Steve Bush
Editor-in-Chief
BrightHand
www.brighthand.com

RE: Pocket PC sluggish? You've got to be kidding me!
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/29/2000 10:57:19 AM #
Excuse us Mr fair assessment, but um...
Are you are part of the Microsoft "grassroots" program to make all of our lives better through innovation? Your page has more ads for pocket PC's than Ron-co has "Julianne" fries.
Even your Logo shares space with the Pocket PC.
I'm sure your ad revenues have nothing to do with your opinion,,,and you are a completely unbiased party (it being your job and all)...but please...for the love of God (or L.Ron Hubbard) ...come down from that soap box before you hurt yourself ...
RE: Pocket PC sluggish? You've got to be kidding me!
mikecane@wildmail.com @ 6/29/2000 11:49:58 AM #
Perhaps you have a different perception of time than I do, seeing as how you are probably a WinOS user for years. That said, even watching MS's own demonstrator run the HP PPC through its paces, the "watch" (clever icon, that new circle, kudos to MS designers for that!) came up more times that I would have expected. There should be NO "watch" icon popping up. You also forget that PPC and PalmOS take distinct approaches to using RAM, with PPC setting aside "storage" and "active" RAM, whereas PalmOS (currently, at least) addresses RAM as an overall chunk, with no distinction between "storage" and "active." However, I can tell you that if you were to see my *own* Palm III, you would see that my own unit is incredibly sluggish (it makes PPC look speedy!) due to the over 300 proprietary DOCs I have on it. Seeing how these bog down PalmOS, I would expect a PPC to have a fatal coronary -- for clearly it has to invoke the "watch" with even minimal data stored on it (as those demonstration units had). mc
The iPaq certainly isn't sluggish!
Slurm Factory @ 6/29/2000 12:47:55 PM #
I checked out an iPaq at PC Expo, and that thing is faster than any Palm device I've owned in the Past. Everything comes on the screen instantly, not like the slow painting screen on the IIIc! Sorry guys, but it does beat the Palm...well, at least the IIIc anyway. In fact I just put my order in for an iPaq at CDW. Sadly, it won't make it into my hands for another week or two.

I listened to the Hawkins keynote on Tuesday, and I was totally disappointed. The way he talks, we aren't EVER going to see any new features or improvements added to the PalmOS...they aren't even going to increase the screen resolution! I'm selling my Visor on ebay if anyone is interested.

*as a footnote, let me say that anyone here that says the Pocket PC is a doomed product that no one wants to buy, and will go down in flames...well you obviously didn't go to PC Expo. I went yesterday and again today, all I can say is the PocketPC pavilion was packed to the gills with spectators. In fact, there were times when the PPC booths had larger crowds than the Handspring booth. I smell trouble for Palm coming!*

RE: Pocket PC sluggish? You've got to be kidding me!
On the contrary @ 6/29/2000 4:46:57 PM #
People were around MS's display out of curiosity, as I was. And the people there who already had PDAs had PalmOS ones, not WinCE. Palm's area was so packed, they could have used 50% more space, just for the comfort of the attendees.

We'll see how you like your iPaq and how pocketable it is with its expansion module. Good luck, but to prophesy doom for Palm is foolish (that can wait til next year, if nothing as changed!). mc

RE: Pocket PC sluggish? You've got to be kidding me!
Kilmerr @ 6/30/2000 2:56:37 PM #
Oh oh PDA wars. Heh. I LOVE my Palm and like everything Palm OS-ified, but I have to chip in with the non-sluggish types. These things are fassst. StrongArm me. And all you "Palm OS will be forever types", well that was BEFORE they had decent competition. MS took 3 shots to get the OS right and they finally did. But the machines sluggish? I don't think so. No one (who is TRULY honest) will say that. I am a PDA lover, not a Palm OS preacher. These machines are wickedly fast. Anyone predicting the demise of PocketPC has not SEEN them in action. And Palm itself will go StrongArm, which is great, Palm OS faster. But not for a millisecond would I use the term 'sluggish' in reference to PocketPC's. Gear up, looks like the PDA wars will begin.

And Hawkins "be simple" speech helped nothing, in a over-flowing add-on for this and that show. Handspring with StrongArm and HIGH-BIT color and FLASH...that will save em. Springboard is a winner. Not simpleness. All sorts of trade-off's in PDA zones. MS memory sludge concepts, Palm machines on Dragonslowball chips. Handsprings with glued in OS. With the DRAM problem, heh. Best 'o luck. What matters it what it does for you. But 'sluggish'? I doooon't thiiiink so.

Franklin PDA

Thomas Keekley @ 6/29/2000 10:20:55 AM #
This is an example of a concept Palm and Sony should be coming up with. Very nice design.
RE: Franklin PDA
mikecane@wildmail.com @ 6/29/2000 11:57:45 AM #
On first glance, it is very enticing, isn't it? However, there might be possible shortcomings that I might be addressing in a "PC Expo post-mortem report" that I might write later today (Thurs), pending Ryan's OK. mc
RE: Franklin PDA
Thomas Keekley @ 6/29/2000 12:38:47 PM #
I meant more the physical enclosure than the feature set . . unless your 'limitations' refer to that aspect. I'll be eager to read.
Franklin PDA
I.M. Anonymous @ 6/29/2000 12:53:28 PM #
Now WHY can't Sony do something like this?
Sure it rips off the Palm 5 somewhat but they did it right....(except that it doesn't run the Palm OS)
RE: Franklin PDA
Yes, I meant that @ 6/29/2000 4:50:14 PM #
Yes, the possible limitations are indeed due to the large screen. I will address this in my final report. But don't forget, what they showed was a prototype, so it is still possible for them to make minor adjustments. mc

Larger Screen

Kermit @ 6/30/2000 12:26:08 AM #
Finally a PDA with a larger screen! Even if the implementation is flawed (as has been implied) it is a move in the right direction. I'd regard a larger/higher resolution screen more important than colour even. After all, the main thing the PDA screen is for is for displaying text - and I find it much easier to absorb if I can see a reasonable chunk of it at once.

Are there even any rumours of a PalmOS device with a larger screen?

RE: Larger Screen
mikecane@wildmail.com @ 6/30/2000 12:40:51 PM #
Unfortunately, I heard no rumors of any larger-screen PalmOS devices. I think we might have to wait for another increment of the OS for Palm to support it. They have mentioned such hardware freedom in the past, so they are obviously working on it. Don't forget, however, that reading about a product is quite different than holding it in your hand at a store, when it is for sale for real money (trade show tryouts don't actually count for much, as pre-release prototypes tend to change -- sometimes drastically for the bettter). I did not mention how the Franklin screen looked because it was a prototype and it would have been unfair to them to comment on something that will probably look drastically different (ie, better). However, I stand pat on other aspects of their feature-set in the analysis in my final report. mc
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