IntroductionAfter the Apple Newton quietly passed away a few years ago, you could be forgiven for thinking that handheld computers would never catch on. Actually, handheld, or personal digital assistant (PDA) computers – and in particular the Palm – the fastest selling consumer electronic items in history. Selling a phenomenal three million in just three years, handhelds using the Palm OS have caught on quicker than TV, radio or VCRs ever did.
Representatives from Palm and Handspring believe that sales will reach as many as 100 million before very long. Confident talk indeed.
If you are unfamiliar with the Palm OS, a little history might help. A small team of engineers and software developers first developed the Palm Pilot. Though it was successful, the company needed to expand quickly. To make this possible, they sold the company to US Robotics. Shortly after, US Robotics was bought by 3Com, and Palm was on its way to the big time. What the original developers wanted was to have Palm spun-off as a separate company – and they waited until they were told that it wasn’t going to happen. So the original team jumped ship and started Handspring. Ironically, 3Com has recently spun-off the Palm division as a separate company.
The latest offerings from Palm are basically updates of the Palm III and the Palm V. The Palm V has been souped-up with 8MB of RAM, four times the original. This might not seem like much memory when compared to desktop machines, but typical Palm applications weigh-in at well below 100K. As base specifications increase, the applications written to use them bulk-up. But for now, 8MB is plenty.
The main attraction of the Palm Vx is the super-sleek casing, it weighs just over 100 grams (4 ounces) and is only 4mm thick, so it can sit in a pocket easily. The Newton never managed to fit into a pocket, and was more book-sized than wallet-sized.
Apart from the extra RAM, the Vx is the same as the old one. It has infrared,for linking to other Palms, the Graffiti text-input software remains the same, and the pre-installed software is no different.
The Palm IIIc is the first-ever colour Palm OS PDA. It may seem frivolous to have colour on a PDA, but colour monitors were once considered frivolous on the Macintosh. The developer world seems confident that colour has a future on the Palm OS, and there are already plenty of applications to take advantage of its colour capabilities. For example, using a Palm IIIc as a digital photo wallet is possible using Club Photo. Simply drag JPEG files to your Palm and you can view them anywhere. Ideal for inflicting your family and pets on unsuspecting strangers.
Colour provides new opportunities for software, and the Palm OS programming community has already taken advantage. Software for Palms already includes spreadsheets and city guides.
Apart from the colour screen, the hardware remains mostly the same, except for the memory bump up to 8MB. The battery lasts only two weeks, rather than the four the Palm Vx offers. But, the two-week life is going to make a difference only if you are travelling overland across the Sahara.
The one thing that works against the IIIc is its size. It isn’t much bigger than the Vx, but enough to weigh your pocket down. It is almost 200 grams (6.8 ounces), about double the weight of the Vx.
The Visor from Handspring is the only totally new Palm OS machine. At first glance it looks like the Palm III, except it comes in a familiar array of fruity flavours. On closer inspection, however, the Visor is slightly smaller and has a unique expansion slot called the Springboard. It works the same way as the GameBoy, with a small card slot in the back. There are big plans for the little slot. Over the course of this year, loads of Springboard devices will be released. On the cards so far is a mobile-phone attachment, a GPS unit, an MP3 player, a bar-code reader and many more. The possibilities are endless.
The Visor will not be launched in the UK until June, but it’s worth waiting for. Because of the expansion port, and the company’s pedigree, the Visor will be popular – perhaps more so than the Palm.