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Symbol SPT 1500

Small package, monumental achievement: a Palm III with a tiny laser scanner

With all those low cost yet powerful computing platforms on the market--such as PalmOS, Windows CE, and EPOC32--it was only matter of time until someone employed them for vertical market duty. That company turned out to be Symbol Technologies.

The Holtsville, New York, experts on scanning solutions just recently stunned the industry with their amazingly tiny SE 900 Pico Scan Engine, a visible laser diode scanner that’s only about one fifth the size of existing models and weighs less than one fifth of an ounce. Yet it contains a complete 650nm laser-diode rated at 36 scans per second, operates on 3 volts, has a working range of 30 inches, and uses Symbol’s "adaptive logic" technology--enabling reading poorly printed bar codes and scanning at extreme sunlight levels. How small is the SE 900? Picture an AAA battery cut in half, or perhaps the filter of a cigarette. It’s so small that it could fit just about anywhere.

It’s easy to see how such a small scan engine could open a whole range of new opportunities in different markets and different form factors. And since Symbol has licensed 3Com’s PalmPilot technology, the first device to incorporate the SE 900 is a vertical market version of the PalmPilot, the Symbol SPT 1500.

The SPT 1500 looks like a slightly longer Palm III. The extra three quarters of an inch accommodate the SE 900 and a scanner button on each side of the unit. The design--same charcoal gray as the Palm III, with turquoise-colored buttons--is stunningly attractive and actually more balanced than the Palm III itself. The extra length is completely integrated into the unit, in contrast to the snap-on designs that are often used to house peripheral functionality. The SPT 1500 does not look like a longer Palm III, it’s a complete and harmonic design. If anything, the Palm III looks like a shortened Symbol SPT 1500. I wish 3Com would adopt this form factor and sell it as the Palm III+ with an internal modem.

Symbol’s "scanning-enabled" PalmPilot will actually come in two versions, the one shown on this page, and a more rugged version with Symbol’s Spectrum24 wireless LAN. The SPT 1500 is completely compatible with all PalmPilot and Palm III software applications and includes all the standard Palm OS applications. The scanner, however, makes it a tool for "point-of-activity" computing in many areas where traditional scanners are too large or too expensive. Since the SPT 1500 is small and light enough to fit into a shirt pocket, it can be used in any retail environment, in sales force automation, in offices, or in healthcare settings. It’s even conceivable that the SPT 1500 could be used as a home electronics device. Imagine scanning the bar code on items you’re low on and then use the 1500 as a shopping list!

Though the Symbol SPT 1500 is just one new product, its introduction has far-reaching significance. Symbol has demonstrated that the merging of specialty components--in this case a laser scanning engine--into low cost/large volume platforms is possible and feasible. This new approach could have a huge impact on field force automation where small size, simple operation, and low cost matter.

-Conrad H. Blickenstorfer

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