Tech Talk

Trends Trends & Culture - April 7th, 2006

A real PC, in your hand

by Andrew Robinson

I have a dream. Ever since 1998 I have wanted my Newton MessagePad back. Back before Palm, we had this not-so-little but oh-so-great device that made my laptop redundant. It did email, limited web brows­ing, spreadsheets and word processing, and had pretty good pen-based input. I’m a committed laptop lover, so when I say my Newton replaced it for most things, you can understand what I mean. Good handwrit­ten input, small, portable, great battery life, modern networking… these things are what I miss since Apple killed my beautiful MessagePad, and I’ve been jonesing for a handheld like it ever since.

Palm you say? No way. The arcane squiggles and strokes that make up the Graffiti input on a PalmOS de­vice is maddening for me. And the PalmOS was never very good at things we want in a handheld device — pictures, music, movies, really good email and web — things that a full-on computer is good at. Enter the Origami project from Microsoft and various hardware vendors.

The Origami device, now known as ‘Ultra-Mobile PC’ (www.microsoft.com/windowsxp/umpc/default.mspx) might get me back to what I was missing: a fully enabled PC in a handheld device. Now, I haven’t seen this up close, as Microsoft, Samsung and Intel all made these devices fully public last week, as of writing. How­ever, their promises make it look like the real deal with good handwriting recognition and a fully realized oper­ating system to run music, surf the web, do all my email and watch the Desperate Housewives episode I just bought from iTunes. Since it’s a ‘real’ computer, like my laptop or desktop, with a color screen, wireless networking and running the same software I use for work, I might be able to actually leave my laptop at home when I go on vacation or give a presentation to a meeting.

Of course, it’s ugly as all get out, but it’s not made by Apple so that’s expected. It runs That Other Operat­ing System, so I’m planning on virus prevention and a little frustration in it’s use. But I’d have that with any Windows PC so it’s really the handheld part, the pen-input, and the long battery life that I’m looking to love. If Apple decided to make an ultramobile Mac, I’ll be ecstatic, but until then I might have to give the Ul­tra-Mobile PC my ‘Almost a Newton’ award… as long as it lives up to it’s promises.

Andrew Robinson has been working in the IT field in Tokyo, in businesses ranging from small to interna­tional enterprises, for over ten years.