Conrad Blickenstorfer's blog

Learning from cellphones

Annoying though they are, fact is that cellphones outnumber our beloved Pocket PCs and Pocket PC Phones by a grotesquely huge margin. Cellphones are absolutely everywhere, and it's becoming increasingly rare to see people without one plastered against the side of their head. The sad conclusion us PDA guys have to draw is that cellphones fill a need that our beloved Pocket PCs can't. So let's see why they clobber us, and where we may just have a chance to make up ground....


The success of Pocket PCs in industrial markets

What's he talking about now? Industrial markets? Industrial markets are boring. They may be to consumers, but from what I can tell, vertical and industrial markets is where it's at these days with the Pocket PC platform. While it's becoming increasingly rare to find a new "traditional" Pocket PC without a tiny screen and a phone, camera and GPS receiver shoehorned into it, and while the influx of new consumer Pocket PC models seems at an all-time low, the industrial markets are absolutely in love with Windows Mobile.

Yesterday I had the pleasure of talking with Mark Chellis, director of marketing at Symbol Technologies of Holtsville, NY. The reason for the talk was that Symbol has sold 500,000 MC9000 rugged handhelds in just three years. That's half a million of just one of their many lines of Windows Mobile devices. Not a bad number at all, especially considering that Symbol's rugged industrial handhelds cost quite a bit more than your garden-variety loss leader PPC down at Circuit City.

What makes commercial and industrial grade Pocket PCs so successful while their consumer market brethren are struggling and trying to morph into little phones?


Is my Pocket PC really useful?

In a recent email to the eclectic group of uebernerds that comprises the contributors to Smartphone and Pocket PC, Hal Goldstein, enduring czar of all things mobile, inquired as to how we use Windows Mobile software in our work. The most brilliant exploits will presumably be featured in the magazine as examples of how to use Windows Mobile software to increase one's effectiveness and thus save and improve the business world as we know it.

That made me think. I've been using PDAs since the first Newton was unveiled in the summer of 1993. I wrestled useful handwriting recognition from it when most everyone blasted and even lampooned it. I used the NewtonMail communications service when the world still equated the word "spam" with a yummy meat product in a can. Later I recorded thought processes and business ideas on my beloved Casio M500. Yes, that included whole business plans and some of those insights into life that pop up and don't wait til you sit in front of a keyboard. Much of that originated on planes, in hotel rooms, even in bars. I'd later assemble those precious morsels into documents. That was a really good use of Windows Mobile -- Windows CE then -- software. But am I putting Windows Mobile software to good use today? I am not so sure....


(Screen) size matters!

In my years of scooping, reviewing, testing and using mobile devices, there is one thing that has baffled me more often than anything else: screen size. It's easily in the top five of my "What were they thinking!?" hitlist. I mean, we're no longer in the mid-1980s where LCD technology just wasn't there and manufacturers had to use whatever they could get. Today whatever LCD a design team wants, someone is making it.

With that in mind, let's ask ourselves a few questions. The sole purpose of a display is letting people see things, right? That can be data, pictures, websites, whatever. And as with anything visual, color is always better, bigger is better, and more resolution is better. At least that's the way it works with TVs. Have you noticed how people who once balked at a $600 TV now fall all over themselves to shell out thousands for a huge high-res flat screen?

Unfortunately, that rationale doesn't seem to apply with Pocket PCs, digicams and other electronic gizmos. As a result we have laptops that fit only onto the widest of laps and seem to serve no other purpose than to watch widescreen movies. And we have handhelds and such with ever tinier screens that are supposed to display ever more information. Let me elaborate...


Who is this Blickenstorfer guy anyway?

Good question. And I know, I have a looooong name which I have to spell at least half a dozen times each day. I could have changed it to something short like "Jim Lee" when I became a citizen back in '86, but the prospect of having to explain that to about 67 credit card and other companies in those dark days before the web made me reconsider. So Blickenstorfer it stayed.

Just so you know where I am coming from, I used to be a corporate IS/IT type, even had a CIO title for a few years. Then wearing a dark suit every day became a bit much. I quit, moved to California, and founded Pen Computing Magazine in 1993, just when everyone dumped on pens and the Apple Newton was shredded for its handwriting recognition (does anyone remember that the original Newton was H-U-G-E compared to today's Pocket PCs?). Amazingly Pen Computing took off. We published our first issue just when the old PenWorld published its last, and from the start we covered not just pen computers, but also anything else that used a pen. Which means I got to see a lot of cool and not so cool stuff. And met Hal Goldstein in the process. I always viewed Hal as The Friendly Competition. Good man, Hal. We hung out at a lot of shows. And Pocket Mag Blog Maestro Hanttula was there with us, too.

I was there when Gates revealed Microsoft Windows CE and the original crop of Handheld PCs at the Cirque du Soleil theatre back in '96. We all uhhh'ed and ahhhh'ed over those little Casio, NEC, Philips et al clamshells -- dinky grayscale screens, anemic performance and funky chiclet keyboards notwithstanding. Then, for the next several years, watched as Microsoft putzed around with the platform in often inexplicable ways.


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