Future Gear: The Real Pocket PCs
Our access to digital information today is like our access to friends and family before mobile phones. Back then we could reach loved ones only if we were at home (and they were also at home--or at some other fixed, known location). We face a similar problem now with our data: To access it, we have to be at our PCs, or we have to plan ahead to extract the data we need. If we forget to print out directions to a party, or neglect to synch our PDAs and load the new address, we're stuck. However, several companies are introducing products that let you take your PC, or at least your PC's data, with you wherever you go.
Hard drives may not be sexy, but Toshiba's
The prototype I tested came with Windows XP Professional, Microsoft Office XP, and a "3G" wireless PC Card that let me surf the Web or make calls while walking to work. I also composed e-mail on a BlackBerry-style thumb board, and I could navigate the desktop easily using the gorgeous 4-inch color touchscreen, which, at 640 by 480 pixels, has twice the resolution of Pocket PC screens. The Eightythree has USB and audio ports, plus a docking connector that lets you plug it into a desktop keyboard and monitor.
Like a laptop, the Eightythree could be your only PC.
But I'm not sure I'd want it to be. At 5 by 4 by 1.1 inches and 20 ounces, the Eightythree is quite small, but still too big for most pockets. And If I have to carry my PC in a bag, I would prefer the bigger screen and keyboard of an
A smaller, lighter product is in the works at another start-up called
OQO will also provide docking options that let you use the device like a full PC. At its base price, expected to be around $1200 to $1500, the OQO product will include a docking cradle (with its own hard drive for backups) that provides standard peripheral and network connections. A laptop shell will also be available. The company representatives I spoke to envision a world in which people naturally carry their PC in their pockets, quickly check information while on the go, and plug into an available docking station when they have work to do.
The question is whether enough people will buy into this concept. To be anything more than a toy for wealthy propellerheads, the OQO will have to gain widespread market acceptance so that other companies provide docking stations, peripherals, even applications (such as music players) optimized for the pocket-size touchscreen.
Palm succeeded in developing such momentum, but most products with similar ambitions fail. Remember the Apple Newton? The Newton failed partly because it was ahead of its time, and partly because it was an Apple-exclusive product. Palm succeeded, in part, because it licensed its OS to other companies, and OQO is pursuing a similar strategy. While it will make and sell its own devices, the company also plans to license the design to other equipment manufacturers, who can compose their own riffs on the OQO theme. (One company is planning to build a combination PC-cell phone, for example.) Sounds like a good plan, though success is far from assured: Most people may simply see the OQO device as an absurdly expensive PDA that becomes a paperweight if the company fails. It is much more than that, and it could become the platform for a new kind of computing. But OQO will have a big job selling that vision.