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User To User: HP 200LX vs. Palm vs. Pocket PC

User To User: HP 200LX vs. Palm vs. Pocket PC

Hal takes a brief look at the Palm IPO, teh new Pocket PC, and declares the 200LX still his handheld of choice.

By Hal Goldstein

Every day we get calls from customers wanting to buy new or used 200LXs. Sometimes they want as many as 100 units. Unfortunately, we no longer have any new HP 200LXs in stock and our supply of used units has also dwindled. If you're in desperate need of a previously-owned unit, try your hand at online bidding at www.eBay.com. Anticipate spending some money however. These rare units are in great demand. Many corporations continue to supply their employees with 200LXs to run custom DOS applications related to their business. We're working with several, possible sources to obtain a large number of previously-owned units, however, there's nothing finalized.

I've never seen or heard of such a demand for a discontinued device. The reason for the demand is obvious to any Palmtop user: there still is nothing that matches the HP 200LX size, battery life, flexibility, built-in software, and DOS capability.

I spoke to a knowledgeable HP person who insisted there just wasn't the demand to justify continuing the 200LX. Furthermore, he indicated that the older parts, particularly the screens, are getting more difficult and more expensive to obtain. I have no reason to distrust my source. However, I know that we could sell the 200LX for years and hope to be able to do so.

Palm's Success

Although HP pioneered handhelds, it is the Palm Pilot series of PDAs that has been the most successful. These small keyboardless devices synchronize easily with desktops and have become the choice of many. The Palm's ease of use, small size, good battery life, great marketing and availability all contribute to its success. A further indication of Palm's success is that not only has the PDA captured the hearts of its users, the company that makes the PDA has captured the pocketbook of stock investors. Given the gold rush nature of the stock market, we shouldn't be surprised at Palm's success with its initial public offering (IPO). (See the sidebar for the details.)

Whither WinCE?

Where does that leave HP and all the other companies that have tied their success to the Microsoft Windows CE platform?

In a word, HP will be ready for the next step in the evolution of the handheld market. Palm has marketed its units to beginning users. There's every reason to believe that when these users want more, they'll turn to Windows CE. If Windows CE were a stock, I'd buy it today at a depressed price.

Industry pundits have declared Palm the winner leaving the Windows CE Palm-size PC on life support if not dead. Since Palm has between 75% and 80% of the palm size market share, the conclusion seems reasonable. As a result of its IPO, it has a lot of capital to spend on marketing and R&D. Furthermore, Palm is introducing a model with a color screen and is licensing its operating system to Sony, Handspring and others.

Place Your Bets

I would still like to take the Las Vegas odds and bet on Windows CE over Palm.

If you've ever played high-stakes poker, you know that the player with the biggest bankroll will often win no matter what cards the other players are holding. I'm betting that Windows CE will do well. The reason is simple: Microsoft must be victorious in the handheld device space to perpetuate its overall market position. Bill Gates knows this. That may be one reason he has stepped aside as head of Microsoft and has taken the position of lead product developer. It's sort of like going from casino manager to taking over a seat at the high-stakes, poker table. Watch out. Not only does he have a bankroll that would swamp the other players, he also has Windows CE 3.0 up his sleeve. He has a newly stateed corporate mission: "Great software on any device, any time, any place." He knows how to play the game. Remember the Mac operating system vs. Windows, WordPerfect vs. Word, 1-2-3 vs. Excel, and most recently Netscape vs. Explorer. In each case, early versions of Microsoft products received poor reviews and a tiny market share. In the "first few hands" Microsoft studied the market and took feedback from customers. In every case, at version 3, Microsoft produced a strong product and an effective marketing campaign. Microsoft also has partners with experience, prestige, R&D and marketing clout: Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, Casio, and Symbol to name but a few.

Windows Powered Pocket PC

Most of you are aware that we have a sister publication, Handheld PC Magazine that's devoted to Windows CE products. We've been given advance notice that the juggernaut is about to move. We're hustling to rework our advertising and editorial content to reflect the new marketing approach. The new name for the Win CE product line will be "Windows Powered Pocket PC". Accordingly we'll be renaming our publication Pocket PC.

"Windows Powered" extends the Windows brand to millions of Microsoft customers. "Pocket PC" creates a new "PDA" category -- one with no baggage attached. The name clearly states what the device is --a PC that fits in your pocket. Microsoft's campaign will evangelize the benefits of having a computer in your pocket as opposed to having a simple electronic organizer. (This campaign should sound familiar to HP Palmtop users. It's too bad that HP didn't push this advertising approach to the limit.)

What is a Pocket PC?

A Windows Powered Pocket PC, due out late Spring, is a keyboardless device similar to the Palm based on the Windows CE 3.0 operating system. Built-in applications include Pocket Excel, Pocket Word, Pocket Internet Explorer, Pocket Outlook for e-mail, and Pocket Money. I have tested a pre-release version and Pocket Explorer does a surprisingly nice job of surfing. For data entry, the unit does a reasonably acceptable job of understanding letters when entered normally, or you can point to a keyboard that gets displayed on the screen. Microsoft will give its Pocket PC capabilities beyond that of a PIM, differentiating itself from market leader Palm through software. By adding basic office software such as Word and Excel, Microsoft is targeting business users, who can use the devices to stay up-to-date with the office. For consumers, Microsoft is bundling its eBook reader with its ClearType technology, and audio player, which can play both MP3 and Windows Media player files.

These devices provide the ability to process e-mail (and attachments). Standard Word and Excel file formats will be supported by the forthcoming devices. That means that a file created on a desktop PC can be viewed, edited and saved by the devices without having to go through a translator. This will appeal to a lot of people who want software compatibility. The modern bells and whistles such as watching TV and listening to music on a Pocket PC will surely get the attention of gadgeteers.

My Choice: Still the HP 200LX

I like the HP Jornada 680 with its color screen and keyboard. I am also impressed with a prototype of the Pocket PC --the interface is intuitive and easy to use, unlike previous models. The built-in apps in both machines are starting to approach 200LX standards (in some ways better, in some ways not as good).

However, my handheld of choice remains the HP 200LX. I like using a keyboard which eliminates the Pocket PC from consideration. The Jornada 680 is still too bulky and heavy for my taste. Further, battery life on both machines is 8-10 hours. That means I have to remember to bring along and plug in a charger wherever I go. To me, this solution is not truly portable. Long live the HP 200LX.

Old Business: Backlighting

The latest is that I still have no news to report. Hard-to-get parts and other unexpected snafus have delayed the project. At this time, my best guess is that we will be able to start backlighting 200LXs in June for $199.

One question that comes up often concerns the backlighting upgrade for users with bad screens. Unfortunately, we upgrade whatever screen is sent to us. If the screen is bad, that is if it has vertical lines or blank areas, it will have the same problems with backlighting.

Palm Computing's IPO

iPhone Life magazine


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