From the Editor (October 1999)
Many readers have asked why we haven't
been including Pen Computing's "Buyer's Guide" section in each issue. That's a
good question as the "Buyer's Guide" consistently ranked among the most praised
sections of the magazine. Well, here's the scoop. First of all, for the past two
years we have published a special annual “Pen Computing Buyer's Guide.” The Guide
is sort of a summary of everything we reviewed during the preceding twelve
months, and contains much more detailed information than we used to provide in
the Buyer's Guide section of the magazine. The second reason is that our
advertising staff had been pestering us for years about dropping the Buyer's
Guide. They claimed that many prospective advertisers turned them down, saying
that they saw no need to spend money on advertising with us since their products
were listed for free in the Buyer's Guide section.
As you can imagine, the
relationship between a magazine's editorial and advertising departments can be a
tedious one. Here in the editorial office, we want to bring you, our readers,
unbiased and comprehensive coverage of all that is happening in mobile computing
technology. The ad folks, of course, are besieged with requests for editorial
coverage. And everyone is well aware that without ads there wouldn't be a
magazine. As a result, you see many publications that have started running
"infomercials" and advertising sections that are cleverly disguised as editorial.
We will never resort to that. We also hope our advertisers appreciate the
contributions Pen Computing Magazine has made to this industry and continue
supporting us in our effort to cover everyone, whether they advertise with us or
Anyway, the Buyer's Guide is back as a regular section of the magazine.
Since there are so many new products, we decided to split it into two parts, one
listing vertical market and industrial computers and the other consumer products.
We will run them alternately.
Updating the Buyer's Guide was an interesting
(albeit very time-consuming) task. We mourned the loss of some very innovative
pen computing champions (like Cruise Technologies), marvelled at how adept many
vendors are at keeping proven designs technologically up-to-date, rolled our eyes
over some vendors' now-you-see-me-now-you-don't product strategy (Hi, Big Blue),
and felt validated in our belief in pen technology by the large number of new
products released since we last ran the Buyer's Guide. We ended up listing over
70 products covering just about every aspect of the market, from small,
ruggedized handhelds all the way to bullet-proof equipment that stretches the
term "mobile." If we left out someone, let us know.
One aspect that makes
covering this market so fascinating is the endless variety of form factors
vendors come up with when they design computers to handle particular tasks.
There's little variation in desktop and notebook computers these days, but the
same doesn't hold true for mobile systems where form always follows function.
a result, picking the right computer for a job involves much more than just
checking off boxes in a list of performance criteria. The most powerful system
may be useless when it doesn't fit into the work routine of the people who use
it. In the best of all worlds, industrial computers would have all the
performance of a high end desktop system, never run out of battery, have a screen
that's perfect in any lighting condition, a keyboard that's large enough even for
gloved hands or handwriting recognition that can reliably interpret the worst
scribble. And, of course, that miraculous device would be light and small enough
to fit into any pocket and cost next to nothing. That's Utopia.
In the real
world, the road to success leads through many hours of figuring out what's
required for the job and, more importantly, what is not. It is entirely possible
that a given field force automation project is better served by a $149 CrossPad
with custom forms than a $7,000 computer capable of running Windows NT. Then
again, maybe not. Perhaps insisting on a keyboard is a wise move, one that makes
the workforce actually uses their new systems. Then again, perhaps the clamshells
turn out to be unusable for the job and teaching people how to use pen slates
might have been better. Perhaps staying with the safety of a known, powerful
operating system such as Windows turns out to be the right decision. Then again,
maybe a full implementation of Windows may turns out to be overkill and Windows
CE or the Palm OS may have been a better and much more economical choice.
look through the Buyer's Guide, you see that vendors are faced with these same
questions. It's long been our belief that only a small portion of vertical market
opportunities have been tapped. The vast majority of areas that would benefit
from automation and computer support haven't made the step yet, primarily because
equipment simply cost too much. Windows CE and the Palm OS may change that part
of the equation. If you can get, for example, a Palm OS-based Symbol SPT-1500
with an industrial strength laser scanner for a few hundred dollars, a lot of
companies will start using scanners for entirely new applications. In the same
respect, Symbol will ask itself if the availability of much less expensive
hardware won't cannibalize its more expensive product lines.
From what we can
tell, virtually every vendor of vertical market mobile computers is at least
cautiously optimistic in opening new markets with lower cost technology. As a
result, a good number of new CE products have been announced. Let's take a quick
pass through some of these product announcements.
The "Big Three" rugged
industrial com-puter vendor—Symbol Technologies, Telx-on, and
Intermec/Norand—have all an-nounced Windows CE-based products. Telxon equipped
its venerable 1124 and 1134 product lines with new technology built around AMD's
Elan chip set that can run both Windows CE and DOS. These products are now called
the PTC-2124 and PTC-2134. Telxon also has a "flashlight"-style CE terminal, the
PTC-960M. Intermec's Norand Mobile Systems Division has introduced the Pen*Key
600 line of small, but quite rugged, palmtop computers. They, too, are based on
the Elan chipset and come in three version. One that runs DOS, one that runs
Windows CE, and one that can handle Windows 95. Intermec itself contributes the
flashlight-style Data Collection PC 5020, Symbol Technologies announced no less
than three CE machines at ScanTech, the stunning PPT-2700 that shares its body
with the Palm OS-based SPT-1700, the equally impressive, unique "PDA on a stick"
PPT-7200, and the more traditional flash-light-style PPT-7500.
notables, WPI Husky has been offering their impressive CE-based fex2l for several
months, using the same “curved open book” design so successful in their
ultra-rugged Windows 95 offerings. Fujitsu Personal Systems and Hitachi both
offer handy little Windows CE pen slates. We reviewed the Hitachi ePlate in the
last issue and the Fujitsu PenCentra in this one and came away more than
impressed. Itronix has a very rugged Windows CE clamshell, the T5200; Kinetic the
PC/Piranha meant for use in vehicles; Harris the Access Device 2000 which
replaces a similar Newton-based design; TouchStar a special Windows CE version of
its TouchPC Eagle; and Rockwell the brandnew DataMyte 4000. Casio still offers
the non-rugged PA-2400 CE pen tablet that pioneered that concept, and Data
General has been going back and forth about releasing its promising WiiN-PAD that
would be available both with and without integrated keyboard. Psion, finally, has
tantalized us with the incredibly impressive and blindingly fast EPOC-based
netBook. The netBook is meant to become a mobile Java machine for enterprise
Even though this issue is primarily ded-icated to vertical market
hardware, I must mention what is perhaps the mobile com-puting product
announcement of the year, the Visor from Handspring. It's a faster, more
powerful, less expensive and infinite-ly expandable Palm OS device from the
people who invented the PalmPilot in the first place. Handspring will be BIG.
-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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