While in Las Vegas for CES 2001, I had the pleasure of spending time with UR There founder Brad Nolan, discussing his company’s foray into the world of handheld computers and using its upcoming @migo Pocket PC for nearly an hour. While that didn’t provide nearly enough time to perform a thorough review, I was able to run through many of the functions of the device and provide candid feedback on it to Mr. Nolan.
While the @migo is certainly not an iPAQ-killer, it is a worthy device. In fact, it actually appeared slightly faster than the iPAQ. Palmax’s (the Taiwanese company building the devices for UR There) ability to incorporate a PC Card slot into the @amigo yet still keep it relatively thin is remarkable. Still, I was disappointed with the display, which was washed out and not up to par with the iPAQ’s or Cassiopeia’s (and the backlight was not operational), and the PC Card slot couldn’t handle the wireless card we tried. However, it was a pre-production model.
I managed to sit down with Brad Nolan at length to discuss, among other topics, the delays in shipping the @migo and the exciting announcement that it would be integrating DataPlay support into future devices.
We spoke in a small meeting room in the DataPlay pavilion, struggling at times to hear ourselves over the music of David Crosby, who was playing a set which included some old Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young tunes. As someone who grew up listening to CSNY, it was a defining moment. I realized that if given the choice I would rather hear about an exciting new handheld computer than one of the legendary songwriters of our time. OK, so maybe I am a gadget geek.
Brighthand: UR There seemed to come from out of the blue into the PDA arena. How did you decide to get into handheld computing?
Brad Nolan: Well, it certainly wasn’t our original intention to become a handheld computer company. We actually started out looking for an existing hardware solution to support our plans to provide truly mobile solutions for a couple of our business software products: a commercial and residential real estate product and an inventory product called Pocket Inventory. We decided to look at Pocket PC as the hardware platform because of our strong Windows development background, among other things. So we approached the major Pocket PC device manufacturers with our plans, even meeting with one of them. But none of them could support our plans in the timeframe we were looking at; some actually never responded to our inquiry. But Palmax did. So I flew to Taiwan and met with them. That’s how we got started.
Brighthand: So your focus is on vertical mobile solutions?
Nolan: Yes, that’s why we got into it in the first place. We’re not really here to compete with companies such as Casio, Compaq and HP; we’re here to provide customized vertical business solutions, which we think we can deploy quicker than most companies. The PDA market is a vast and growing one. The figures I’ve read say that there’ll be 50 million PDAs sold in the next 3 years. We’re only targeting a small slice of that. So we don’t look at other device manufacturers as competitors.
Brighthand: Your upcoming Pocket PC, the @migo, has created quite a stir among handheld enthusiasts as well. What are your plans in that area?
Nolan: The Pocket PC enthusiast response has been truly overwhelming, something we really didn’t expect or plan for. We’ll likely continue to sell directly to consumers from our website but beyond that we have no immediate plans for mass consumer distribution. You won’t be seeing us in a CompUSA or a Best Buy, for example.
Brighthand: Where does that leave Brighthand readers? Are enthusiasts any part of UR There’s plans?
Nolan: Absolutely. It’s easy to see that most Brighthand readers are not only PDA enthusiasts but IT professionals and businesspeople as well. Many are even application developers. We’re definitely interested in getting information to enthusiasts and developers quickly, so we’re starting a program, codenamed "the 3 @migos", that focuses on doing just that. We want to have a quality development program early. We’ve also started a wish list for upcoming versions of the @migo and are looking for enthusiasts from sites like Brighthand to provide input to that wish list. We’ll be looking for quality out-of-the-box solutions. Being fellow enthusiasts, we’re highly focused on the individual. We’ll be offering a few things that specifically address enthusiasts. For one thing, we’ll offer insurance at a nominal fee.
Brighthand: You’ve had some delays shipping @migos to customers. What’s the status on this?
Nolan: We apologize for the delay and are doing everything in our power to obtain and ship devices. All it takes is one thing, like a device driver, to delay a product’s release. We’re committed to shipping a quality PDA, so we’d rather have to delay a couple of weeks than ship a device that’s not 100% ready to go. With that said, we should be receiving @migos by January 17 and, pending customs, should be able to ship around January 22. Any customers that are truly unsatisfied can contact us for a full refund. However, for those who have stuck it out we’ll be sending a special gift along with your @migo that I’m sure you’ll enjoy.
Brighthand: So what’s in the future for the @migo?
Nolan: Obviously since we’re here in the DataPlay pavilion we’re really excited about DataPlay’s optical Storage solution and plan to incorporate a DataPlay slot into an upcoming @migo. Plus we’re looking at Bluetooth and SD. We’ve also got the thinner P60M coming in March. And we’re definitely open to new ideas.