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Commentary by Pen Computing Magazine's editor-in-chief

By Conrad H. Blickenstorfer
Issue 54

While consumer handhelds struggle, the news in vertical market rugged and mobile systems is all good. Buyers have never had more choices and products have never been better.
Once again it is time for Pen Computing Magazine's annual Buyer's Guide. In this special issue we're listing just about every major piece of mobile hardware there is. We're starting with a compilation of every Tablet PC, including what is most likely the most comprehensive Tablet PC specifications table you'll find anywhere. We move on to a listing of vertical market handhelds, both ruggedized PDAs and handheld terminals. Next we take a look at what's out there in the pen and rugged notebook market. We're concluding hardware with a listing of all PDAs on the market today. We're also providing listings of some of the most important Tablet PC and mobile software and show you what peripherals we really liked during the past year. And throughout the magazine you'll find handy primers and explanations. What is an IP rating? How do I use RFID? What does "intrinsic safety" mean? And so on.

Let me give you a brief update on what's happening in the mobile and rugged computing markets. On the consumer and business side, all the experts say that PDAs and handhelds are struggling. And when you look at the sales numbers they are right. Personally, I don't think the PDA is dead by a long shot. I see a temporary lull. A number of players have left the PDA market. I attribute the low sales to a lack of vision and interesting products rather than a failure of the concepts. PDAs and handhelds will be back, in force.

On the vertical and industrial side of things, the news is much better. Microsoft is showing the kind of long term commitment to the Tablet PC platform that earlier pen computing efforts never had. As a result, while pen slate and convertible are growing only slowly, a good number of vendors are offering excellent Tablet PC products. Almost all pen slates/tablets/convertibles are now supporting the Windows XP Tablet PC edition, and that is good news indeed. More standardization, a larger market, more software and developer support.

The rugged notebook market has always been a tightly knit community with just a few players. Unlike consumer notebooks where style and fashion are important, once a rugged design works, there is no need to constantly change it. The good news is that we're seeing change where it counts: under the hood. The rugged notebook manufacturers are doing an excellent job in keeping their products technologically up-to-date. The leading products come with the latest Intel processors that combine performance with the lowest possible power consumption. And they include ever more sophisticated wireless systems, optical drives, and just about anything to get the job done even under trying circumstances.

On the industrial handheld side, the news is all good. I don't think we've seen so many new products from the market leaders and even some of the smaller companies in years. The wholesale move from proprietary systems to either Windows CE .NET or Windows Mobile for Pocket PC is almost completed. Some of the new devices are incredible advanced and powerful. Also interesting that Microsoft completely dominates vertical handhelds. We had expected the simplicity of the Palm OS to score at least a few major wins. Instead, the big decision with handhelds is what form factor to get: PDA? Traditional flashlight? Hybrid? Keypad? Touch? Thumbtype? No matter what your preference, you'll find a product that fits the bill.

I hope you'll find this guide useful! -

Conrad H. Blickenstorfer, a former corporate CIO, is editor-in-chief of Pen Computing Magazine and Publication Director of Digital Camera Magazine. He can be reached via e-mail at