MacWorld Letdown: It Should Have Been a Handheld

eNews and Views: A new handheld would have justified all the pre-show hype.

The blockbuster MacWorld keynote address of Apples Steve Jobs is a few days behind us now, and Im feeling rather disappointed.

Although Id pretty much abandoned any expectation of an exciting new handheld computer from The Steve and Co., I must admit that Apples preshow hype stoked a sort of guarded hope in me.

Lets review a few of the banner slogans that appeared on Apples Web site in the days before MacWorld:

"This one is big. Even by our standards."

"Count the days. Count the minutes. Count on being blown away."

"Beyond the rumor sites. Way beyond."

That third one is my favorite. Considering the sorts of things that appear on Mac rumor sites, Way Beyond is a pretty bold statement. Way Beyond couldnt mean a flat-panel iMac, a product that, for over a year now, has seemed so inevitable that no legitimate purveyor of illegitimate gossip would deign to address it.

The biggest rumor-site buzz item leading up to MacWorld was the iWalk, an Apple-branded handheld computer that looked like—and ended up being—a hoax when it turned up recently on the rumor site SpyMac.

An Apple Newton PDA reborn and revamped for 2002 would have qualified as Way Beyond. And why not?

Certainly, the business problems that Palm has undergone during the last year must give pause to a company planning a new handheld device launch, but I think that Palms flagging sales and stalled innovation represent an opportunity for Apple.

The future directions of Palm handhelds are only vaguely defined, and Microsofts Pocket PC devices enjoy a fairly small share of the market.

With the iPod MP3 player, Apple has stepped back into the portable device arena. I can imagine Apple combining that recent experience with what remains in the Newton vaults to produce a device to sell to a waiting population of obedient and well-heeled Mac aficionados.

Apple is out to make our digital lives easier by helping us manage the electronic gear with which we surround ourselves. As we become more mobile, handheld devices will increasingly be the best means of making this happen.

E-mail eWEEK Labs Technical Analyst Jason Brooks