In my last column, I discussed the promise of Windows XP handhelds in theory. That piece was driven by some recent hands-on experience I had with a Tiqit handheld. This column shares more impressions of the device itself, and some thoughts for the future of these products.
Read the first column: Windows XP Handhelds: The Next Small Thing
The thing I probably liked most about the Tiqit was its form factor. Frankly, Tiqit allows you to use a portable PC in a way thats never really been practical before: standing up. I quickly adjusted to the thumb-board, which had a few keys in novel places; it proved ample and comfortable, and allowed effective text entry.
Still, Im concerned that the keyboards on other entrants in this category may fall into that awkward “in-between” zone—too large to thumb-type on and too small to touch-type on. When entering data into the Tiqit, I found I rarely had to revert to the stylus, which was fortunate since there was no well for it and odds are good that it would be easily lost.
As a prototype unit in an emerging category, the Tiqit had some drawbacks. Since it uses the Geode processor, the Tiqit wont set any land-speed records. In fact, the machine crashed when I tried to run a QuickTime movie after downloading the latest plug-in. Tiqit, however, ships some Windows Media clips that the company claims works well. I did not view them.
Furthermore, boot times were relatively slow and, worse, a driver glitch prevented waking up from standby mode. Also, the machine runs very warm, and its heavy enough so that your arms start to get fatigued after holding it for 20 minutes or so. On the other hand, when was the last time you used a handheld for a 20-minute session? The extra functionality of Windows XP enables a more PC-like usage model.
The screen, at 640-by-480-pixel resolution, approaches the boundaries of Windows usability; the on-screen text, particularly on some Web pages, is sometimes hard to read. Pushing the envelope, I used ExpertCitys GoToMyPC on the Tiqit to look at my home machine running at a resolution of 1,280 by 1,024 pixels. I could make out some text that my wife Eileen (aka, “Wife-Ei”), who has better eyesight, could actually read. The result of this experiment is that theres still room to grow on even this tiny screen.
One general criticism is that Tiqit seems to have focused more on the engineering achievement of shrinking a full PC instead of addressing market-responsive features. For example, it should have come with Wi-Fi built-in and probably could have done without infrared. However, given that many of its first customers will likely be in vertical markets, they probably felt a need to go broad. Indeed, theres one key enterprise application that the Tiqit reinvigorated.
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Working with Wi
-Fi on the Tiqit”>
True to Tiqits compatibility pitch, Microsoft Office and other productivity applications ran quite well. Popping in an Agere Orinoco Wi-Fi card gave me nearly instant and convenient access to the Web, which Internet Explorer rendered better than any PDA browser would. I was able to use Web applications that simply would choke on a Windows CE handheld; this is an important consideration for intranet sites that work only in IE due to slashed budgets.
Tiqit, like its competitors, will cost enough to make even Sonys and Hewlett-Packards most expensive handhelds seem cheap. These devices will be priced from about $1,500 to $2.000, so at this point the decision to purchase is really more between the Windows XP handheld and a laptop rather than the Windows XP handheld and a Windows CE handheld.
In short, Tiqit has done an impressive job on a first effort. Yet I kept thinking that things would be a lot better with a little help from Microsoft, which has shown with Tablet PC and Media Center that the company is not above extending Windows to accommodate strategic device groups. Much of that help might be no more creative than applying the relatively minimalist Windows Mobile design philosophy back to XP in some kind of streamlined interface mode.
So what will be keys to success for this new category of handhelds?
First off, a file management interface optimized for smaller platforms, akin to the one in Media Center optimized for the television experience, would also help. Microsoft will have to do this eventually anyway as Windows Mobile devices manage exponentially more files. And if Microsoft wont invest in such a form factor (for fear of confusing customers or cannibalizing Windows Mobile) then third parties or the device makers themselves should.
Since they need to differentiate their products from Windows CE devices, this first round of Windows XP handhelds will focus on functionality. Theyll support features like PC Cards, large hard disks, and FireWire ports. I believe the next challenge, though, will be making them great handhelds, with longer battery life and easier access to information. Putting the leading applications in front of people and having the power of the PC behind the scenes will be the key to success for these intriguing mobile hybrids.
What features do you think are key to a Windows XP handheld? Can these devices succeed without explicit support from Microsoft? E-mail me.
Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin is a senior analyst at eMarketer. He has researched wireless communications since 1994 and has been covering technology since 1989.
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