Expanding Wireless Coverage

While walking through the Modesto, California, airport recently, I encountered a fairly typical sight: two PDA users facing each other and attempting to use their devices' infrared (IR) ports to exchange contact information. I was about to walk past them, but something caught my eye. Both men were using Pocket PCs and, on closer inspection, not just any Pocket PCs--one had a Siemens SX56 and the other Samsung's SPH i700. Both were Pocket PC Phone Edition devices, which combine Pocket PC functionality with digital cellular service (the SPH i700 on Verizon, and the SX56 on AT&T Wireless). Both users told me that they experienced good results not only locally but also throughout the California Central Valley, which until recently offered extremely limited wireless data services. Evidently, coverage is improving--and if it's improving here, it's probably also expanding in other places. I think as time goes on, we'll see more of these "convergence" devices. I'm impressed by what these users showed me. Both devices seemed to function well as PDAs and acceptably as phones, though they both require the use of a stylus to dial a number. The SPH i700 user gave me one cautionary note: He said that although the device works well, he's limited to relatively slow 14.4Kbps connections. This limitation isn't because of any technical limitation of the device. The unit is capable of operating as fast as 56Kbps, but according to the user, Verizon charges an extra $50 per month for high-speed service. Because he's a cash-strapped student pilot, he's saving his money by going slow. For more information about these devices, see the following URLs: http://www.microsoft.com/windowsmobile/products/pocketpcphone/default.mspx http://www.samsungusa.com/cgi-bin/nabc/prod/hhcommerce/telecommunications/sph_i700_features_verizon.jsp http://www.attws.com/pocketpcphone

Notebooks Conquer Desktops A recent press release from the NPD Group (an analysis and marketing firm) reports that in May 2003, notebook PCs outsold desktop PCs, dollar-for-dollar, for the first time ever in the United States. The same month, LCD displays outsold CRTs--also for the first time. According to NPD, these findings represent a huge change from just a year ago, when notebooks accounted for less than 25 percent of US PC sales and CRTs for only 22 percent of display sales. What do these numbers mean? Technology sales have been flat for the past few years, mostly because of the downturn in the US economy following the shock of the burst Internet bubble and the aftereffects of the September 11, 2001, attacks. I speculate that as individuals and companies begin to spend money to replace old systems (or make purchases that were deferred in the bad times), they're choosing to go mobile. Although notebook PCs remain more expensive than desktops (NPD says that notebooks accounted for 54 percent of sales dollars in May, but they accounted for only 40 percent of volume), they increasingly offer identical performance and functionality. When the time comes to retire an obsolete desktop, replacing it with a mobile computer makes increasing sense. Watch for that trend to continue--and extend to less traditional devices, such as Tablet PCs. To read the NPD report, go to the following URL: http://www.npd.com/press/releases/press_030701.htm

Tablet PC in Flight I'm writing this commentary during a brief hiatus from furious preparations for a 2-week trip that will involve flying a small airplane across most of the continental United States. I'm currently attending the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA's) annual AirVenture show in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The show is always huge (temporarily making Wittman Regional Airport the world's busiest airport, with more than 10,000 airplanes arriving and departing in just a few days), but this year will be even busier because it's the centennial of the Wright brothers' first powered flight in 1903. What do my plans have to do with mobile and wireless Windows technology? Quite a bit! I'm taking Motion Computing's Motion M1200 Tablet PC, which I've turned into an Electronic Flight Bag (EFB) for aviation use by installing Jeppesen's FliteStar, FliteMap, and JeppView FliteDeck. These software programs give me electronic versions of aviation charts and instrument-approach procedures for the entire continental United States, all stored digitally on the Tablet PC hard disk. As a result, a 3-pound Tablet PC functionally replaces a 6' stack of paper charts and binders. The software also lets me quickly and easily perform flight planning that in the past required me to spend hours with charts covering the dining room table and the floor. Jeppesen's software has been available for quite some time. But traditional notebook PCs are poorly suited to airplane-cockpit use. I'm finding that a Tablet PC is a perfectly acceptable computer for aviation use. Many pilots also use Pocket PCs or other PDAs, which are small enough to fit in a "Yoke mount" on top of the pilot's control wheel. I continue to carry a Palm VIIx, which I use in the air for weather information and email. The ability to replace most of my paper charts with electronic ones finally sold me--I'm switching over permanently from conventional paper charts to electronic ones. (I'll continue to carry some paper charts as backups.) Working journalists rarely spend their own money on technology items (after all, we're always looking for the next big thing), but for this application, I've decided to take the plunge. I've purchased a Motion M1200. I'll be on the road (actually, on the airways) until approximately August 10. Until then, feel free to write me at my mobile address, which is [email protected] Next month, I expect to share some fascinating news--I've heard a rumor that at least one vendor has been demonstrating a Tablet PC with a daylight-viewable display. I'm hoping to see the device in Oshkosh.

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