I’ll admit, I recently let an important anniversary pass by without making note of it. It was on April 19, 2000 in New York’s Grand Central Station that Microsoft President and CEO Steve Ballmer unveiled the very first Pocket PCs.
To demonstrate how far we’ve come since then, one of the companies that was demonstrating a handheld that day, HP, has since bought another one, Compaq. A third, Sharp, has dropped out of the world Pocket PC market and is now making Sidekicks for T-Mobile and Linux-based Zauruses.
Yes, a great deal has changed since that day six years ago.
A Long and Winding Road
If you’re relatively new to the world of handhelds, you might not know that the Pocket PC was actually Microsoft’s second attempt at creating a successful operating system for mobile devices.
The first attempt, called the Handheld PC — in a word — bombed. These devices looked like tiny laptops as they used a clamshell design and included a small keyboard. They were quite different from the Palm OS devices that were their primary competitors… and against which they competed poorly.
After a few years, Microsoft took a different tack and came up with a new operating system to power devices it called Pocket PCs. As I’m sure you are well aware, these are tablet-shaped devices very similar to the Palms of the time.
In the intervening years, only one company — HTC — has been brave enough to make a clamshell Pocket PC after the failure of the Handheld PC.
The new tablet models, on the other hand, had much better success… although it took awhile.
This new mobile platform started out slowly, but it gained support steadily to the point where Pocket PCs have come to overshadow their old rival, the Palm OS.
Sharp Curves Ahead
In the last year or so, mobile devices have entered what is often called a “Period of Transition.” What this means is that demand for traditional handhelds is declining, while interest in smartphones and other converged devises is growing.
Fortunately, Pocket PCs have remained at the forefront of this process.
This is the point where this process takes a bizarre twist. What is probably the most popular Pocket PC smartphone is made by Palm, Inc., Microsoft’s old nemesis in the handheld market.
But Palm isn’t the only company making Pocket PC smartphones. HP has shown a strong interest in this area and others have too. In addition, Microsoft itself is committed to making future versions of the Pocket PC platform ever more focused on being right for converged devices.
It seems clear to me that there will be Pocket PCs around for many more years.
p.s. If you want to indulge in a bit of nostalgia, take a look at Microsoft’s original press release from 2000 for the Pocket PC’s debut.