Drop the desktop model for handhelds, users say

PALM DESERT, Calif.—What users want in a handheld computer is toughness and ease
of use, a Marine Corps officer said last month at the Mobile Insights ’99 conference.


It is time for users such as the Defense Department to stop retrofitting systems for
the field, said Marine Maj. James C. Cummiskey, Camp Pendleton’s mobile computing
specialist. He spoke to an audience of mobile product users about an Army plan to buy
100,000 Nino 300 handheld devices. The handhelds, from Philips Mobile Computing Group of
Knoxville, Tenn., run the Microsoft Windows CE operating system.


“Then I heard the Army wanted to spend additional money to ruggedize them. How are
you going to ruggedize them? I think that’s really dumb,” Cummiskey said.


Cummiskey repeated a point other users often made during the two-day conference:
Portable units must start adapting to field work, not the other way around.


The price of a basic notebook has declined to about $1,500, said Gary Baum, mobile
computing director for chip maker Advanced Micro Devices Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif.
Portables, however, are still trying to be desktop PC equivalents.


“That’s fine if you work at a desk,” Cummiskey said, but the Corps wants
to know the locations of its personnel and the enemy via a “wireless LAN out in the
field. We’re looking to partner with industry to achieve that.”


It is time to get away from the desktop computing model, Cummiskey said.


“We need to explore mobility,” he said. “The sit-down model of computer
use is not the most effective way of getting up a hill. You need the walk-around model as
well.”


He spoke on a panel that included technology managers from several companies. Both
Cummiskey and Bernie Ferneau of State Farm Insurance said they like Windows CE as a mobile
handheld standard because it lets them leverage their organizations’ Win32
application programming interface knowledge in developing applications for CE.


In a session on mobile computing in the 21st century, Leo Suarez, director of mobile
product marketing for IBM Corp., said communications will shape tomorrow’s portables
because of the continuing need to connect to legacy systems.


Connectivity eventually will be wireless, Suarez said, and “end-user applications
won’t be that different. But when we do it in wireless mode over very-high bandwidth,
it will be a server-based world. The form factor will take the shape of that
environment.”


“Why do you have a laptop in the first place?” Suarez asked. “It’s
for access to information. The device itself is not important.”


At the conference, 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., unveiled its new Palm V handheld
model, and Qualcomm Inc. of San Diego showed off the pdQ Smartphone, which blends the Palm
interface with cellular calling.


Stepan Pachikov, senior vice president and general manager of the ParaGraph division of
Vadem Inc. of San Jose, Calif., demonstrated CalliGrapher handwriting recognition software
for computers running CE. The audience cheered when he wrote 12 + 13 =, and the handheld
came up with 25.


Joel Gould of Dragon Systems Inc. of Newton, Mass., showed new voice-recognition
software for Symantec Corp.’s Act personal information manager.


Dragon NaturallyOrganized takes the user’s speech files from a handheld recorder
and translates them into commands for the organizer.


Gould demonstrated voice recognition in appointment scheduling, adding tasks to a to-do
list and creating e-mail with attachments. Once downloaded to the PC, the Dragon software
performs the commands, leaving items for the user to approve with a mouse click.


On the hardware side, IBM Corp. showed off its new MicroDrive, which stores up to 340M
of data in a unit the size of a flash memory card. The MicroDrive will appear soon in
handheld PCs and digital cameras.


Candescent Corp. of San Jose, Calif., demonstrated its ThinCRT flat display, which
combines cathode ray tube technology with flat-panel manufacturing processes.
Candescent’s Stewart Hough said a ThinCRT gives top performance at minimum power
consumption for battery-powered mobile use.


For more about products at the conference, go to http://www.mobileinsights.com.  

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