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PDAs and Electronic Books
by Mark Sedenquist

Gizmos and gadgets of every conceivable shape, color, and function were on display at last week's 2001 CES show in Las Vegas. I am beginning to see a range of products introduced that will enable the Dashboarder lifestyle. A few months ago, an electronics industry pundit said that within five years, Nokia would be the largest producer of mobile computers. I am not convinced that this particular prognosticator had the correct corporate entity in his crystal ball, but I am intrigued with the growth of products in the PDA (Palm Pilot-type devices) space. As the computing power of the PDA-platform products evolve, it is possible that notebook computers will become obsolete. I have never owned one of these PDA devices, preferring in most situations to employ a decidedly old-fashioned technical device: (hand-written notes), but I am beginning to see some advantages of the newer gizmos.

Check out the "RoadWriter" mounting bracket/platform produced for Palm hand-held computers created by Revolve Design that features an attached keyboard and a phone holder that retails for around $230. Communities and local governments that have outlawed the use of cellular handsets in vehicles are probably not going to be very supportive of such devices, but it gives a whole new meaning to e-mail on-a-roll.

One of the more interesting product rollouts was the MPCpro device introduced by Delphi Automotive Systems at the show. Actually the most interesting aspect is that until very recently Delphi was a wholly owned subsidiary of General Motors, and the "Communiport Mobile Productivity Center" (**update 12/02: This product is no longer available.) is, I believe, their first attempt at selling anything directly to consumers. This device docks a Palm product with an Ericsson cellular phone and incorporates voice and text-to-speech utilities so that information usually found on Palm devices, (address book, calendar, etc) can be delivered to the driver in a hands-free mode. The cost of the device, the Palm and Ericsson products will be in the $1000 range.

The Delphi product requires a TDMA cellular network connection, and Comworxx has introduced their version using the GSM network. Instead of a Palm device their "Port-IT" device is built on the Compaq platform that allows users to "push" desired information to their mobile computers through the use of a customized and personalized website. The Port-IT device, includes a built-in GSM telephone and a variety of software programs including global positioning navigation, e-mail, and programming from Internet sources. Pricing was unclear at this point. I am sure that there were other offerings that required the use of the CDMA network as well.

Another group of products that I figured I would probably never endorse was E-books. Somehow the notion of reading a novel by holding a laptop left me cold. But the folks at "Go-Reader" showed me an electronic book reading device that just may make some sense. This device is targeted at students, (high-school, college, post-graduate) and is worth a look, even if this is not a likely Dashboarder tool. The screen is roughly 12" (diagonal) and has 800 x 600 resolution. It's housed in a hardened shell that is tough enough to have survived drop-tests conducted by 8th graders during field trials. The device will cost about $400 and can hold the content of several textbooks. Users can purchase individual text book content at about 30% of the book list price and can view the material from several books while carrying only one "book" around the campus. Readers can mark and highlight the text, and future editions may allow creation of search and find utilities. An encryption process thwarts unauthorized reproduction of the book's contents. One application I can see for Dashboarders would be to store the documentation for all the various products one needs on the road on one such device. "RTFM" would be a much easier proposition if such a device could store all the manuals!

Plenty more gadgets were on hand-- more news later.

Mark Sedenquist
Las Vegas, Nevada
January 15, 2001