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From the Editor (Oct 1998)

In praise of small industry shows

I recently spent a couple of days at the Handheld & PDA Forum Utility Industry Conference in Denver, Colorado. The conference is one of several produced by WMS/PDA, Inc. every year, each one geared towards a specific vertical market (in addition to their Annual Mobile and PDA Expo). The Denver conference was attended by perhaps 300 representatives from the utility industry and perhaps 50 different hardware and software vendors. What made this conference so useful was the absolute absence of fluff. There were no "tirekickers," no dancing girls at the vendor exhibits (not that I mind dancing girls), no temporarily hired PR types that didn’t really know the products. Each conference attendee was there to learn and compare notes with colleagues. Each vendor showed their relevant products in small displays manned by product managers or others who were intimately familiar with their offerings. Virtually every major pen technology vendor was represented at the conference. It was a literal who-is-who in field automation. As a result, two days at this PDA conference yielded about twice as much information on the state-of-the-art in the mobile computing field as an entire, expensive, exhausting week at Comdex.

This small conference reminded me what worthwhile trade shows should be all about: tightly focused providers of relevant information and places where you can mingle with others who pursue the same goals. Congratulations to organizer Jon Covington and his WMS/PDA, Inc. Read his column on mobile market growth and customer education on page 40 of this issue.

I do hope other event organizers will take note of Jon’s work. Ever since the demise of the dedicated pen technology shows of the early 1990s, we’ve had to rely on a small number of entrepreneurial pioneers and experts such as Jon Covington, Dr. Gerry Purdy, and Andy Seybold to organize these very focused but intensely useful seminars and conferences. If you get a chance, attend some of their shows whenever you can. Though not inexpensive, they are prime opportunities to get exactly the information you need. And you even get to talk to the people who actually make the products, something I love and took liberal advantage of.

In the process, I saw the first vertical market pen computer to use a 266MHz Intel Pentium MMX processor, the Dauphin Orasis, plus a slew of high tech wizardry that Dauphin also provides (see report on page 42). I learned that WalkAbout is now selling 233MHz versions of its tough, invulnerable Hammerhead pen tablet. There was a futuristic looking new modular and mobile computer system from Motorola, the Mobile Workstation 520. I talked to the folks from Xplore whose innovative Genesys P133 computer now has a much better digitizer. They were celebrating their first large contract. The people from Intermec’s Norand Mobile Systems division showed me their new Pen*Key 6632, an update of their already impressive 6622 which had started life as the Sharp Copernicus (see full description on page 48). I talked to Itronix representatives who hinted at some exciting new products beyond their hardened X-C 6250 wireless notebook that can now be ordered with a 200MHz processor and a very bright 10.4-inch TFT touch screen. General Magic was represented in full force, demonstrating the handy DataRover 840 and their commitment to vertical market solutions development. They also handed out an interesting white paper entitled Mobile Devices in the Utility Industry. Microslate showed their rugged MSL3000 notebook and some of their venerable Datellites with intensely bright color screens. They also showed a new, sealed, and backlit keyboard. Extremely useful for those whose field assignments continue after the sun goes down. Software database vendors Oracle and Sybase showed database clients for mobile systems (Enterprise software architects take notice!)
At the conference exhibits I even saw some pen computers that I hadn’t known of before, such as the Panasonic’s Toughbook CF-25 and the Amrel Rocky II. Both are rugged Pentium-powered clamshell notebooks with pen/touch screen options. Watch for reviews in upcoming issues of Pen Computing Magazine.

One company that was conspicuously absent was Microsoft. With everybody wanting to know about the use of Windows CE in vertical market devices, this would have been a great opportunity for the Redmond boys to engage in some meaningful dialog with customers and many potential OEMs. As is, several of the hardware vendors present at the show indicated that they are busily working on Windows CE projects.

As usual, I carried a whole bag full of electronic devices with me. My IBM ThinkPad stayed home because it is too big and heavy for a trip where I’d only use it to get my email and type some notes. Instead, my NEC MobilePro 750C handheld PC came along for email duty. I also brought a Philips Nino and a Casio E-10 because I wanted to see how they felt on the road. My trusted Newton MessagePad 2000 made the trip because I still need it for taking notes. Sadly, there still isn’t really a replacement for its combination of excellent handwriting recognition, great battery life, and a superb screen. I also took my REX along, partially because it is so small and handy and contains all of my contacts, and partially because it remains a great conversation piece. Now if they’d only make one with a touch screen and Graffiti.

I left the conference feeling that it was time well spent, and also marveling at all the activity in the pen technology marketplace. Check out their website at

In this issue we also wanted to report on pen services under Windows 98. However, information is hard to come by and we have to revisit this topic in one of the next issues. In general, there doesn’t seem to be much future for Microsoft’s pen extensions. We still think that version 2.0, which debuted with Windows 95, had a lot of promise. But it’s clear by now that there won’t be a full 32-bit version of the pen services. The current version is 16-bit only, which makes them fairly useless if you are building 32-bit pen-aware applications in Visual Basic or C++. Fujitsu Personal Systems has announced Windows 98 with pen support on its pen tablets, and given Fujitsu’s proactive stance in such matters, we wouldn’t be surprised to see them providing additional Windows 98 pen functionality.

Given the uncertain pen services situation, many pen technology vendors have decided to do without the Microsoft pen services altogether and simply use the tablet or touch screen driver supplied by the digitizer manufacturer. But what if you need a pop-up keyboard? Even if your pen computer has Microsoft’s pen services installed, you might find the bundled pop-up keyboard lacking. An excellent replacement pop-up keyboard is available from pen aficionado Scott Griepentrog at StG’s virtual keyboard has all the keys you need, and it doesn’t need the Microsoft pen extensions to run. Scott’s site, by the way, also offers a wealth of information on how to implement Windows 95 on a variety of older pen machines.

We first thought this issue of the magazine was going to be a thin one, as late summer issues often are. As it turns out, there was so much news and so many products to review that we actually had to postpone some stories. We did, however, manage to squeeze in some very interesting things.

There’s a first look at Royal’s new daVinci low cost connected organizer. Royal clearly took aim at the Palm Pilot segment of the market, but it offers something extra, a butterfly-shaped keyboard that folds open. It looks stunning and is certainly a marketing coup, if not more.

We’re also bringing you an illustrated look at what really happened at Microsoft during the long development and gestation process of their palm-size PC. See the Pulsar prototype, an early WinPad model, and how they evolved into project Gryphon, today’s palm-size PC.

Our Palm OS platform editor, Scott Sbihli, interviewed Jeff Hawkins, the genius behind the Palm Pilot. As you may know, Jeff—one of the most creative and productive pen technology masterminds whose credits include GRiD’s pen computers, the Zoomer PDA, and the Palm Pilot—and fellow former Palm Computing leader Donna Dubinsky recently left 3Com to form their own company. This was huge news, and Hawkins talks about their motivations and what may lie ahead.

In this issue you also find a very interesting feature on the new breed of low-power processors. It was written by Jim Turley who is editor-in-chief of Embedded Processor Watch and one of the CPU industry’s foremost experts. His report will give you a good idea of the current landscape in low-power RISC processors that drive most of the new handheld and palm-size computers. It’s clear that we’ve only seen the beginning. -

-Conrad H. Blickenstorfer is editor-in-chief of Pen Computing Magazine and general editor of Digital Camera Magazine. He is also a mobile technology contributor to the Fortune Magazine Technology Buyer's Guide.

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