January 29, 2004

Tablets vs. PDAs: Blurring the Lines

Let the feature convergence continue, as the lines blur between Tablet PCs and handheld PDAs. For instance, some of the newest PocketPCs have pretty good native handwriting recognition. I've tried it, and it blows Palm's Graffiti out of the water, it's that good. It takes your own handwriting and instantly converts it to text, so you don't have to learn a new way to write letters and numbers.

On the Palm OS side, new handhelds under development from Sony look promising. First, some Sony Clie's coming this year will feature OLED displays. If you haven't heard of OLEDs (Organic Light-Emitting Diode), it is a type of screen that is sharper, brighter, and uses less power than the conventional back- or side-lit displays (OLED dots glow all by themselves). When it comes to PDA battery life, the side- or backlighting consumes a huge chunk of it, so it will be interesting to see how much OLEDs extend a PDA's charge. OLED displays are also more compact and less expensive to make than conventional displays. I first read about OLEDs several years ago, and was beginning to wonder when they would find their way into mainstream consumer devices.

Next, Sony is developing its own type of organizer software for their Clies, which is in the concept stage. PalmInfocenter has the advance scoop and screen photos. From the limited information there, it reminded me of the old Lotus Organizer software for Windows -- using a tabbed notebook interface to quickly move from the calendar to address book to notes, etc. It was a popular program and interface because it enabled its users to relate back to the paper world to which they were accustomed.

I also think Wi-Fi access is important for web surfing and e-mail access. Unfortunately, SanDisk has yet again pushed back its release of their Secure Digital (SD) Wi-Fi card for Palms -- thus earning it the dubious "vaporware" award on a number of sites like Wired News. But if someone were to offer a PDA with handwriting recognition that works well enough, Wi-Fi access, a good-sized bright display, excellent battery life and good business grade organizer software for $500 or under, it certainly makes it a lot tougher to justify $2,000 - $3,000 for a Tablet PC.

Don't get me wrong, I think Tablet PCs definitely have their own niches and strengths and are extremely cool, but in a tight economy, a $500 PDA that meets 70-80% of a user's mobile needs is a lot more marketable.

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard