Tech Life Alpha Geek Trend Detection

PDA Boobs

I surround myself with Alpha Geeks because they do a fine job of keeping me abreast to the latest trends which keeps me pleasantly on the bleeding edge. It’s a simple process, just listen to the Alpha Geeks. See what is floating their respective boats and when you see enough boat floatage, you jump on board.

We’ll call it Alpha Geek Trend Detection, but that’s another column.

The current buzz amongst my selection of Alpha Geeks is the PDA. There are two pieces of hardware sitting on the respective hips of the geeks, the Treo 600 and the Danger’s Sidekick.

None of this hardly news. Both PDAs have been exhaustively described elsewhere. What’s unique about this particular buzz is that I have no absolutely desire to join their geeks in their PDA exploration because I’ve been there before… many times.

Literally, right this second, I have a drawer filled with various incarnations of the PDA. You see, the Alpha Geeks identified the original Palm as the “thing”. This was followed by the various other Palm form factors (thin! color! more memory!) which, after a few months of usage, ended in exactly the same spot as their predecessor… unused… sitting in their drawer… praying for a second life via Ebay.

The Alpha Geeks followed up by convincing me that the Blackberry solved of the problems I had with my plethora of Palms by… wait for it… getting rid of functionality and elegance. The insanity of such reasoning should have been a clue, but I bought it hook, line, and sinker because the value of having an always-on network connection really did offset the fact the Blackberry looked like crap.

The Blackberry’s usefulness window was longer than that of the Palm, but when I switched jobs and the new gig didn’t provide me with Blackberry service, I didn’t miss it because I knew I’d be traveling less, so the need to have all-the-time access to my email decreased.

Present day. The Alpha Geeks are out in droves, sending me mail, cornering me at parties, and instant messaging me. MY PDA IS THE SHIT. I’m sure it is. Yes, yes… the Sidekick has a fascinating form factor. Yes, it has all the apps I’d expect from my desktop. Gosh, it’s pretty. No, no, no, you Treo folks are cool too. It’s shiny! It’s got a camera? Well, isn’t that fancy. Yes, I want one.

Yes, I reeeeeeeeeeeeeally want one.

The problem is, I’m going to buy one, I’m going to dance around the house in anticipation until it arrives and when it does, the dancing will turn into jumping up and down. I’ll unpack it, load it up with all my content, and head off to the closest Alpha Geek and they’ll nod approvingly.

… and then I’m going to feel like a total boob because I was duped again.

See, I thought I’d learned my lesson regarding the Alpha Geeks almost fifteen years ago. The Geeks were all in a tizzy about Compaq’s latest and greatest portable computer. It looked like this:

Yes, folks, a 286, 12Mhz portable feature an orange plasma monochrome display weighing in at over 20 pounds. Sweeeeeet. It’s the Alpha Geeks that got this on my desk over a decade ago and that failed promise was followed by subsequent disasters from HP, Dell… the list goes on and on… and this was before Ebay when a boob-like-purchase could hope for a recouping of losses.

The point is this: There’s an adoption curve on new technology. At the peak of that curve, the technology has sufficient value that it will appeal to a significant population that will make it successful. Alpha Geeks will have you believe the time to jump on the curve is as soon as possible because, really, you don’t want to miss a thing, right? You’ve got N.A.D.D.… that means there’s no difference between ignorance and a lobotomy.

To me, for now, the PDA feature set still lags. I have a large list of contradictory demands that only make partial sense. They are:

  • Broadband network access. There should be no difference between my office connection and my connection sitting in the car on the way to work.

  • Big fat screen. Pixel real estate is key for me. I don’t need 17″, but I want more than is currently provided.

  • Accessibility. Blackberry made strides here with the QWERTY keyboard, but the design still forced most users into writing their emails in Blackberry-ese meaning “Im writing briefly bcuz this keybrd iz smll”. I want zero restrictions on my ability to get my bits over the wire.

  • Phenomenal application support. I’ve got the same list of requirements that made of my Mac. I want easy access to all my usual business apps (Word, Excel), I want access to all of my various communication mediums (Terminal, AIM/iChat), and I want a burgeoning developer community who are actively seeking new ways of exploiting the PDA platform.

  • You’d think I’d not want amazing 3D games on this mythical PDA, well, I do. Some needs to figure out how to jam stellar graphics performance into one of these babies because Solitaire ain’t going to cut it.

Sounds like a portable, right? Wrong. I have a portable. Portables have evolved to pretty much meet all the requirements above without apologies. PDAs have not. Portable computing was a niche player until it matched desktop computing feature for feature and PDAs have the same burden.

And… yes, my strict list of requirements is motivated by a financial defensive mechanism which allows me to keep my dollars on my pocket and not in a drawer… gathering dust.

9 Responses

  1. My current PDA is a Palm III which I inherited (for free!) from a friend who now has something current and color and Handspring-ish. I plan on staying so far behind the curve, PDA-wise, that I never have to pay for one of the things, and never have to deal with bleeding-edge buggy bullshit.

    On the other hand, I’m tempted to try and finding a Newton eMate on eBay, just because they so fucking cool.

  2. It doesn’t fit all of your requirements, but have you seen the wireless version of the Alphasmart Dana? ( )

    /me drools much, and often.

  3. Gregg 21 years ago

    The only digital device I’m thrilled with is the iPod, the rest I’m desperately trying to find a use for. I do get some use out of my m505 when travelling or running errands, but as a minority platform user (Mac) I miss out on really good desktop to device sync (there’s virtually nothing that’s not a PIM for Macs).

  4. My current mobile configuration: PalmPilot M105 (probably the lamest one you can still use), and a 120mhz 2gig laptop.

    The biggest downside to the laptop was the boot time. Win2k took five minutes. Then I realized I can start the bootup prior to reaching my destination. Problem solved!

    The PalmPilot’s two apps are: AvantGo and Notepad (built in). I can scribble notes that I transcribe later, and read my PIM textfiles when I need a phone number or other detail.

    The laptop lets me run a wifi card. From there, I rent cheap web space on two powerful internet servers. It’s incredibly fast to upload, compile, & run my code.

    At HOME, well, that’s another matter. I don’t mind waiting 20 hours for my latest project to run. The machine remains responsive. I can do other things in that time. But the screen is massive, the drives aren’t full. I’m not stupid. But would you believe I use a dialup? I’ve stressed finding solutions with ready materials, and a dialup compelled me to consider both my objectives and my methods. Do I mind the 6 hour wait for Net Framework 1.1? Not a bit. So far, no real downside. Now that comment’s gotta make the geeks cringe.

    Mobile computing costs me a under $200 to replace. And I still feel remarkably powerful. In the end, skills, ideas, and organization do the work. If you can run a wifi card, code editor, cmd box, and a browser, you can write complex online software (ASP.NET or whatever) at a wifi cafe. If your PDA can sync and show a text file, and you can scribble a note, you have maxed out the core meaning of PDA.

    Yes there is a bleeding edge. The bleeding is from the 10x premium you pay for dubious or unevolved features that won’t make you more effective. But it’s a seductive little addiction for them, isn’t it?

  5. Hey, I drooled over the Compaq III when I was a kid! I had to put up with a Compaq I until 1992.

  6. I’ve been using a Samsung i700 for the last few weeks for ‘testing’. It’s OK but I quickly get bored with things like this. It’s nice that it has a phone and a camera, but the camera sucks and the phone is annoying to use. The best part is the ability to Terminal Service from it.

    And why don’t they put hard drives in these things? I’d be much more apt to buy something if I could dump large amounts of music and photos to it.

  7. I think what you’re looking for is called the “Samsung i700 PocketPC.” Includes phone, rather fast wireless ability on Verizon, let’s you input stuff however you want. Only issue is the screen size.

  8. Chuckler 21 years ago

    PDA Boobs … I really like this concept.

  9. Floid 21 years ago

    Typing this will make me late for work.

    But, uh, jesus duh, you want a computer in your pocket. (Possibly merged with a cellphone, but something like Vonage nixes that requirement if they’d offer a software client and you can find some 802.11 wherever.)

    The problem with PDAs is that they’ve all tried to be PDAs (read: overblown organizers). And the Newton was the only PDA that was even halfassedly good as a PDA. (Seriously, that piece of crap impressed me, still does. Just too expensive.)

    My current candidates for “not suck enough to be useful:”

    -IBM PC110 or anything more recent in the x86 palmtop category. Boring, but you know what you’re gonna get.

    -Zaurus – Featureset is at least close. Comes in clamshell now, sorta. Lack of USB host controller(?) in early models is something of a joykill, and the CPU isn’t really that great.

    -Kaii – Waiting for this for a while, because SuperH seems to have proven relatively nippy via Dreamcast, and comes in 300MHz+ variants. They got the USB host controller right in the specs, the business model is sort of sexy, but the whole thing seems rather vaporous.

    -Anything else in the OpenPDA aka “can probably compile *NIX software for it without pain” category (AMD Alchemy reference design) – good enough, presuming that the right USB functionality is in there. WANT TINY COMPUTER, NOT OVERPRICED CALENDAR ‘PERIPHERAL.’ (Want to be able to dock tiny computer to things like keyboards, cameras, display apparati, external hard drives, network adapters, and so on. For you hipsters, the ability to bung a USB flash keyfob onto one should be enough of a selling point for the host-controlling feature.)

    -iPaq: About as crappy as the Zaurus, but cheaper off eBay because MS hands out so many for free, and Familiar seems kinda okay. Tablet form-factor sucks for someone whose main applications are IRC and mail, but once a roll-up/fold-up *Bluetooth* keyboard hits the market, it’ll be tolerable. (“Unfolding keyboard, typing” good enough. “Unfolding keyboard, fumbling with docking cradle, cord, discovering train ride/plane flight/OSHA-mandated break is over” not good enough.)

    Want $150 device that can run some sort of marginally compliant browser and play MP3s at the same time. Don’t mind if I have to spend another $300+ on storage for it if I can defer/delay said spending; do want to not be hobbled by over-limited and unexpandable system RAM, though.

    USB hostnes allows for smaertness re: “Okay, I’ll put all my MP3s on a big cheap USB hard drive and leave it in the car,” “Okay I’ll put 256MB Flash in the device itself, that should hold a good number of apps and documents.” Something Palm has conspicuously lacked entirely, what with the proprietary buses.