On April 19, 2000, Microsoft launched Pocket PC at Grand Central Terminal in New York, and I was fortunate enough to represent Brighthand at the event. Much has happened since then and Brighthand has followed it every step of the way. So to commemorate the fourth anniversary of the platform, we’ve compiled our list of the ten top events that have shaped the Pocket PC platform.
10. Pocket PC comes to Palm-size PC’s rescue
Before Pocket PC there was something called Palm-size PC. With Palm-size PC, Microsoft had hoped to leverage its Windows ancestry and, along with several prominent manufacturing partners, overtake Palm in the handheld market. That didn’t quite happen.
Undeterred, Microsoft returned to the drawing board and reworked its plan, banking on the theory that consumers wanted to “do more” with their devices. Voila, Pocket PC was born, and in the three years since its launch, Microsoft has made significant progress in the handheld market.
9. Nothing to phone home about…yet
Jumping on the convergence bandwagon, Microsoft added cellular capabilities in 2001 with a special version of Pocket PC it called Phone Edition. However, the devices released so far based on the Pocket PC Phone Edition have been jacks-of-all-trades and masters of none, according to reviewers, and gained little traction in the market. However, a new generation of models is expected soon, including devices like the Motorola MPx and the HP iPAQ h6300 series, which might finally bring the Phone Edition into its own.
8. Pocket PC Gets a Name Change
Last year, Microsoft announced that the next version of its operating system would be called Windows Mobile 2003 for Pocket PC. Despite the name change, there were few enhancements added to this version that were obvious to users. However, under the hood, the Pocket PC version is very close to Windows Mobile 2003 for Smartphone, making it easier for Microsoft to make improvements to both operating systems at once.
Just last month, the company released Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition, which adds support for VGA screens and the ability to easily switch the screen orientation between portrait and landscape. No Pocket PCs have been released running this version though, so what effect it will have on the platform it not yet known.
7. Casio finds MultimediaCard technology before its time
MMC and Secure Digital (SD) cards are everywhere nowadays. Yet few remember that it was Casio that first slipped a Multimedia Card slot into its slender EM-500 Pocket PC back in mid-2000.
Unfortunately, Casio soon discovered that it was ahead of its time, and longtime Windows CE users weren’t quite ready to shake their reliance on CompactFlash for this newer, albeit smaller, media. Still, it made HP and Compaq take notice and plan for MMC and SD in its future models.
6. Pocket PC wins at Wi-Fi
While palmOne rejected 802.11b, or Wi-Fi, in its handhelds due to its effect on battery life, Pocket PC manufacturers threw caution to the wind and embraced the wireless technology. With CompactFlash cards from Symbol and others, Pocket PCs were easily converted to mobile, yet wirelessly connected, devices. And it wasn’t long before Toshiba released a Pocket PC with built-in Wi-Fi. Now, though Sony has several models with Wi-Fi, palmOne has only a single device with built-in 802.11b. And, because of endless delays in developing a Palm OS version of SanDisk’s Wi-Fi SD card, palmOne users are very limited in their Wi-Fi options.
5. Jornada ends its journey after merger, but its legacy lives on
When Compaq merged with Hewlett Packard to form the “new HP” back in 2002, management decided to drop the Jornada line in favor of the highly successful iPAQ. This came just when HP appeared to be “getting its act together” with its Jornada line, incorporating faster processors, better displays, and greater expandability. Fortunately, many of the key Jornada technologies, such as removable batteries, have been merged into recent iPAQ models.
4. HP’s first iPAQ sets standard for future
Released in late 2002, the iPAQ h1910 Pocket PC became the first Pocket PC to match the size and aesthetics of Palm handhelds. While it took a few compromises to get there, the popular argument that a Pocket PC couldn’t be small and lightweight suddenly lost steam. Since then, HP has put out much more powerful devices based on the h1910 form factor, all of which have proved very popular.
3. Toshiba ups tech ante
After being spurned by PalmSource, Toshiba turned to Microsoft for a Pocket PC license, and the Pocket PC world was never the same. Since the release of its first handheld in 2001, Toshiba has raised the bar in many key technical areas, from built-in Wi-Fi to the first Pocket PC with a VGA screen.
2. Dell introduces rock-bottom pricing
Long rumored to be exploring the handheld market, in 2002 Dell finally found a manufacturer that would build it a Pocket PC for cheap. Its $299 Axim X5 Advanced and $199 Axim X5 Basic Pocket PCs (after rebates) made Pocket PCs affordable to the “average Joe” (or Jane, for that matter). Suddenly Axims were showing up in the hands of business people everywhere.
Dell has continued to push down the cost of handhelds with its Axim X3 line. Thanks in part to the X3i, the price of Wi-Fi enabled handhelds have come down noticeably.
1. Compaq’s iPAQ redefines Pocket PC
Let’s face it, Pocket PC owes a lot to the innovative Compaq iPAQ. Originally scoffed at by industry followers for its lack of built-in expansion, the iPAQ single-handedly changed the face of Pocket PC.
In fact, Microsoft’s monumental decision to support only StrongARM processors in Pocket PC 2002 was prompted by the success of the iPAQ. And it was the iPAQ that brought us incredible new displays and the feeling that with a Pocket PC you can do anything.
So, what do you think? What were your most important events? Sound off in our forums.
This column was originally published in April of 2003, but has been updated for this re-release.