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Comdex Conference
Palm-Sized, Hand-Held Devices
by Rick Smith (April 20, 1999)

Spring Comdex 1999 Coverage
Microsoft announces top 75 ISVs!
Monday's Keynote Addresses
Vtech's New PDA on Display
Equal Access 99 Benefit
Palm-Sized, Hand-Held Devices Conference

The first panel discussion I attended at Spring Comdex 1999 was Palm-Sized, Hand-Held Devices. Being a handheld user since the HP95LX days (early 90s), this discussion was quite entertaining as well as informative.


The panel moderator, Alan Zeichick, President and Principal Analyst for Camden Associates, Santa Clara, California, has worked with laptop and notebook computers for over 15 years. He asked the panel and the audience many interesting questions. In a "show of hands" survey, most of the attendees owned hand held devices with the greatest number using Palm (3 Com) devices, followed by CE devices, several Psions, 2 Newtons and a few other types. Most people used their subportable as an adjunct device to their "main" laptop or desktop, but a few brave souls used their portable as their "main" system. (I love portable devices, but I tend to use the proper sized machine for the job at hand and over time, relegate certain functions to certain computers. This way the workload is spread between systems and I can use more than one machine to solve a problem.)
Another survey issue was that a majority of the attendees wanted to get corporate support for these mobile devices, but weren't getting it now.
Hand held device carried: Unknown


Renee Bader is the Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for Xircom Corporation, Thousand Oaks, California, a company well known for their unique devices used in mobile and desktop environments. (They made the PE3, an adapter that transformed your parallel port to a 10 Base T or !0 Base 2 connection. It was small, reliable and ran on every OS, even OS/2!) She discussed a few of the Xircom products, but she introduced the audience to the Bluetooth project, a method used to connect portable computer devices to mobile wireless telephones with wires, cables or infrared ports using a spread spectrum RF technology. This will more easily enable users to get email and surf the Web with complete mobility. She also feels that this technology will make it easier for portable devices to connect and this "is what wireless was meant for". She also felt that integrated "smart" phones are a challenge because many couple "not a great [large] phone with not a great [inadequate] PDA. She warned the audience to not believe the "hype", since two separate devices have advantages.
Hand held device carried: Palm


Bill Witte, Product Manager for Palm Computing, Inc., a 3Com company, Santa Clara, California had vendor's perspective. He explained that the new units aren't "Pilots" due to a name "conflict" with a pen company. He gave no concrete explanation of the seemingly arbitrary 3, 5 and 7 numbering scheme, but it appeared that these were specific models aimed at particular market segments. (The similarity to the BMW numbering system was referred to several times. He also mentioned that no one is concerned that there isn't a BMW 4 or 6 series.) In hearing the Microsoft Operating system numbering system - 3, 5 and 7 was less confusing. It also appeared that future models build off these same numbers, also like the BMW series.

Bill also felt that we are currently at the "tip of the iceberg", meaning that this market is growing rapidly and has NOT yet matured. He also made the random comment that Herbie Hancock gave his Grammy speech off a Palm Pilot.
Hand held device carried: Palm (what else? - he works for the company)


Richard Hall, Managing Editor of HandHeld PC Magazine, had the difficult task of being a Windows CE "spokesperson". He gave history of the CE device, how it started out with CE 1.0, moved to CE 2.0 and is now at CE 2.11. He also explained the meaning of the CE world acronyms.:

  • HPC - Hand Held PC, the original form factor of the CE devices, quite similar to the HP 95/100/200 series.

  • PPC - Palm PC, the form factor of many current devices, borrowing from the popularity of the original "Palm Pilot". I think that this is a much better form factor for a portable PEN device. Writing on a folded screen, with a keyboard on the side is NOT easy.

  • Jupiter class - This is the larger sized CE devices, more similar in size to a mini notebook computer. The Vadem is good example of this device.

    He also explained that unlike the proprietary Palm devices created by the same company that made the original hardware, CE is run by Microsoft. Vendors must make certain applications available on CE, depending on the form factor. (The PPCs don't included a Word Processor or Spreadsheet.)
    Handheld device carried: HP 200LX (same as I do)


    The panelists felt that they try to do as little actual "handwriting" on these devices as possible and consequently agree that handwriting needs to get better [100% handwriting recogition is far off] and that voice recognition should also be added. Given the fact that many of these devices rapidly "burn" batteries, and that voice recognition is very CPU intensive, true recogition is a future dream, but Alan feels that some devices may have "token" voice command capabilities in the near future. This seems quite reasonable.

    Bill stated that corporate use of Palm devices for IT service and trouble tickets were an almost immediate return on investment. He also said that some people were doing Java VM on the Palm OS, but felt that it might be a huge burden on this little device and slower processor. It seems to me that people are finally figuring out that small devices "at the point where computing is needed" is a powerful tool. That is why I still carry my Compaq Concerto to trade shows I attend (this is the 11th trade show/conference event I have attended THIS year) - it puts huge computing power where I need it and consequently I can see more vendors on the show floor.

    Overall, it was a great 75 minute conference. Judging from the attendee reaction, I think most of them also enjoyed it and learned new things. (I also learned that the Sony Vaio is pronounced Vie - Oh, courtesy of Renee.)

    Copyright 1999 Rick Smith All rights reserved.

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