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E-mail is the next "killer app;" Why the HP 700LX; The HP Palmtop Paper looks at the World Wide Web.

By Hal Goldstein

I spent much of June traveling and attending Palmtop-related conferences. First to London to attend an OmniGo 700LX communicator developer's conference. Then to Chicago to attend the American Booksellers Convention and promote our book PC in your Pocket. Finally I traveled to New York and visited the PC EXPO computer show. I came away with the following three conclusions:
  1. 1. E-mail is the current "killer" application.
  2. 2. Wireless communications is finally about ready to take off.
  3. 3. The HP Palmtop Paper better get its Web site up ... and soon.



E-mail: The "killer" application

Ever since the VisiCalc spreadsheet application brought the Apple II to corporate America, the computer industry has been on the look out for "killer apps." A killer app is a software application that many people need and results in people buying computer hardware.

The Internet with its information, innovation, and glitter will be responsible for the sale of many new computers. However, it is e-mail that will help universalize computer and modem sales. (Actually it is the Internet that provides a common protocol that lets everyone talk to each other. No matter the source of an e-mail address -- internal corporate e-mail, America Online, CompuServe, or Internet, -- we can send each other messages.)

"What's your e-mail address?" has become a common query. E-mail is inexpensive and gives us easy access to one another no matter the time zone. It allows for quick response, but we choose when to respond.

Businesses large and small are more productive and effective using e-mail. For example, we implemented an internal cc:MAIL system for our small business of 18 people. The result is much freer communications and a better flow of information. We hooked up our cc:MAIL system to the outside world through our local Internet service provider. Now any of our people can be in touch with anyone in the outside world with an e-mail address. Clearing up subscription problems with a subscriber in Hong Kong or Paris becomes much easier. Communicating with HP Singapore is almost effortless despite the time and geographical distance.

There are compelling personal as well as business reasons to have an e-mail address. One of our employees can now easily communicate with her son in the military in Bosnia. My wife has family in Uruguay we hope to be in touch with. Even my young son wants an e-mail address to talk to his buddies at school.

E-mail as a killer app means more than desktop sales. There are important implications of this e-mail phenomenon for the HP Palmtop and for wireless communications. Getting and sending e-mail on the road becomes increasingly vital. Doing so on a small device such as a Palmtop means not having to lug around a portable computer. Being able to send and receive e-mail wirelessly without having to make a physical connection using a phone cord can save one's sanity and even one's back. (Those who have traveled with a bag of connectors and couplers and struggled moving heavy hotel furniture to make the physical connection know what I mean).

HP is quite aware of the potential of the wireless modem / HP Palmtop combination. Almost since the HP 95LX was introduced in 1991, HP encouraged such solutions as RadioMail and a wireless serial modem by offering a special connecting cradle on its price list. That combination helped customers from airports to ballparks.

However, relatively high monthly charges and coverage problems have impeded the proliferation of various wireless / Palmtop combinations. As prices fall, coverage improves, and e-mail becomes more universal, sales will increase.

Wireless solutions

The London conference on the OmniGo 700LX communicator woke me up to the importance of wireless technologies and the convergence of phones and computers. The OmniGo 700LX depends on the digital cellular GSM network, available in Europe and parts of Asia but not in the U.S. The OmniGo 700LX is actually a fusion of the HP 200LX and a Nokia cellular phone with fax software and additional hardware.

Given different modem standards, anyone who has tried to get e-mail traveling in Europe might view the advance of wireless technology as a minor miracle. Europe is well-covered with cellular networks. Prices of service have come down such that you see teenagers walking London streets with cellular phones. All these forces are converging to make the OmniGo 700LX the right product at the right time and place.

One of the reasons HP selected Nokia over the competition is Short Message Service (SMS). SMS allows 160-character messages sent to any GSM-compatible phone. You can use the Palmtop or a phone operator to send the message. In addition, the HP OmniGo 700LX communicator lets you create, send, receive and forward faxes wirelessly. You can also, of course, connect to your company network to access e-mail or transfer files.

What about the 700LX and the U.S?

It is unclear whether the HP OmniGo 700LX and the underlying GSM network that supports it will be universally available in the U.S. any time soon. We understand the GSM network is available in the Washington, DC area, in Hawaii, and in parts of California. HP will probably make the OmniGo 700LX available in these areas sometime by the end of this year.

In the meantime HP and strategic partners are pursuing other solutions with more universal coverage. (See the review of the Wynd, AllPoints combination on page 19 of this issue.) This solution is said to include 90% of the U.S. population and prices are coming down.

Unfortunately, we are based in a small rural town in the central part of the U.S. This means that Wynd and other coverage is unavailable to us. That means we need to depend on you, our reader, to report back on what you like and don't like about going wireless with the Palmtop. In the meantime we trust the information provided in this issue on wireless products will get you started.

The Web - Where are we?

At all three June shows I attended, the Web was an important topic. Most everybody agrees that the Internet is the future, a whole new kind of human interconnectivity. Internet technologies and possibilities evolve monthly. As a publishing company, we should have a site.

In general, no matter what the product or project, our challenge as a small company is to provide a useful quality product or service while making a profit as soon as possible. There is not much room for expensive mistakes or testing. We have to do whatever we do right the first time (or at least the second time).

You, our HP Palmtop Paper customer, tend to be on the leading technical edge, which means it is likely that you spend some time on the Net. Our challenge is to design a web site that you find useful, that you want to come back to, and that pays for itself. That means our site probably needs to provide a combination of Palmtop knowledge, information about Palmtop products, Palmtop freeware and shareware, and links to other Palmtop sites. At the same time it must have a strong interactive marketing element to it to sell our products and services such as our magazine, our disks, our CD and our book.

Creating a web site has finally moved to the top of my list. We should have something up by the end of the year. Your input, feedback, and help will be most welcome.

We certainly live in exciting and changing times.

iPhone Life magazine

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