Stuck in Neutral?
Wow. Awesome design, twice the video resolution of a Pocket PC, built-in camera, great looking user interface, blazing speed. When did that happen? I thought Palms were boring little el-cheapo devices that couldn't touch a Pocket PC. I used to pity all those neophytes scribbling onto their crude, barely legible black and white Palm screens while I listened to crystal-clear stereo music, contemplating a real PowerPoint presentation in glorious color in bright sunlight at the same time. No way a lowly Palm could ever touch that. Palm and its minions sold lots of cheap, entry-level PDAs. Pocket PC ruled the high end. Had all the cool stuff, all the technology. All that really mattered.
Not anymore, apparently. Pocket PC 2002 may still be ahead in some areas, but what I saw on that Sony running Palm OS 5 with a Sony-modified user interface was nothing short of amazing. And the hardware is simply lightyears more innovative than the same old, same old I've seen coming out of the Pocket PC camp. And it's not just Sony. Palms, too, have changed. The new Palm Tungsten T, while nowhere near the Sony's league, is an innovative, interesting, cool design. It, too, has higher resolution than any Pocket PC, speed that I as a Pocket PC user can only dream of, and applications that are no longer much behind those on a Pocket PC, if they are behind at all. And that's even before all the Palm third party software.
What does it all mean? I think it means what I have been contemplating in my last few editorials: The Palm camp is moving ahead. The Pocket PC camp is not. At least not at anywhere near the same speed. We're stuck, folks.
Yes, there have been some pretty nice new products. ViewSonic and Toshiba are offering full-fledged Pocket PCs with 300 MHz XScale processors for around US$300, and at least in the ViewSonic that bargain basement price even includes a terrific transflective color display. Hewlett Packard is introducing two new iPAQs, the low-cost iPAQ h1910 and the high-performance h5400 with integrated wireless. T-Mobile and Siemens are selling the same nice HTC-made Pocket PC with Microsoft's Phone Edition software. The new transflective TFT displays are a vast improvement over the reflective ones where the sidelight always resulted in annoying glare and uneven illumination. And the transition from the StrongARM processor to the XScale Application Processor family is underway. Those PXA processors are more efficient in every way and they are faster. We're not seeing the full benefit from the transition just yet because the current hardware and software doesn't take full advantage of them, but once they do we'll see faster and more power-efficient Pocket PCs than ever.
What worries me is the general lack of progress and enthusiasm in the Pocket PC camp. When we published a long, detailed review of the T-Mobile Pocket PC Phone Edition, T-Mobile never responded to any of our queries and questions at all. Dell, a newcomer to the Pocket PC camp, likewise never responded to any inquiries. Just about the only exciting Pockert PC offering next to all those cool Palms and Sonys and Handsprings in our office is HP's new iPAQ 5450 and a couple of pics of the iPAQ1910.
In addition, none of those machines break any truly new ground. They look the same, feel the same, and work the same as they always have. The new iPAQs are pretty enough, but there isn't any of the wow-factor bold innovation that marks the new Sonys and Palms. And at the end of 2003, the Pocket PC 2002, which was a minor update to the original Pocket PC software, which was an update of the old Palm-size PC software, is getting mighty long in the tooth. As a result of all this, I continue to use my by now ancient Casio EM500. It does just about everything a brand-new Pocket PC does, and it does some things better.
The current situation is that the once low-tech Palm camp now offers anything from the competent US$99 Palm Zire all the way up to that incredible Sony that retails for US$599. Palms come in all sorts of cool form factors and they can now do amazing things. The gap between Palm and Pocket PC has not only narrowed considerably, but completely closed in many areas, and there are some where Palm has pulled ahead. All that from a company that continues to teeter at the brink of extinction and whose stock continues to drop even after a reverse 20-to-1 stock split. Something is definitely wrong with this picture.
I want to feel proud again to have a Microsoft Windows Powered Pocket PC. I want to feel ahead of the curve. I want something interesting and exciting, not just the same old stuff. I don't want to look at someone's Palm device and feel jealous! So can we please get out of neutral and start moving again? -
Conrtad H. Blickenstorfer
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