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Palm Tipsheet 33 - August 2002
iSilo Edition (18k):
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My wife and I are enjoying a very relaxing vacation in the beautiful hills of western Pennsylvania as I write these words. It's great to break away from the everyday now and then. Fortunately, most of this issue was completed before we left home, so getting the Tipsheet out the door has gone quite well and is making very little impact on our time off.
Generally I'm a pretty laid back guy, but on occasion a column will fire up my passion for handhelds. A few weeks back, I came across a column in the Sydney Morning Herald by Graeme Philipson, who claims to hate PDAs and says "I've yet to see one do most things more efficiently than a manual system." in regards to handhelds:
So, I had this crazy idea. What if Tipsheet readers who truly value their handhelds all dropped Graeme friendly emails, sharing reasons why we love our PDAs? I'd love to see Mr. Philipson receive many positive emails (no hate mail or flames please!) from happy handheld users. We can gently remind Graeme while he can freely choose *not* to use a PDA, there are those who choose to use PDAs because they're incredibly versatile, useful tools. If you're up for the challenge, let's show Graeme that PDA users are a graceful group who think differently and are ready to back up our beliefs. :-)
I'm pleased to present an article on the Treo 90 by guest writer J. Kevin Wolfe and a special edition Tipsheet interview with Palm developer Will Lau. I hope you enjoy the issue as much as I've had preparing it for you!
Until next time...
Possible New Palm Handheld Leaked? -- This time it wasn't the Palm press leaking information. Pictures of the 'Oslo', a possible new OS 5 handheld from Palm, inc were actually released on PocketPCThoughts.com. Palm legal requested the pictures be removed and webmaster Jason Dunn complied, however, Palm Infocenter managed to grab a copy of the image has posted it along with speculative information about this mysterious new device:
Meanwhile, if you're interested in creating and formatting your own Palm Reader e-books on Windows or the Mac, then check out eBook Studio. Introductory pricing is $30 (regularly $40):
Thumbs Up for the Treo 90
It's cute, tiny, inexpensive, instantly user friendly and critics love it.
Longtime Palm users hate it.
Why the brouhaha over the Treo 90? Because life as Palm users know it is threatening to change.
But the sensitivity here is because Graffiti does more input, it's been a key navigation tool of the Palm as well. Depriving a user of Graffiti is on par with taking away a PC user's keyboard *and* mouse.
Graffiti is less than 10 years old, but in technology-learning-curve years that's decades. Even if the Xerox lawsuit over Graffiti sticks, Graffiti won't be eliminated from future Palm OS products. But Handspring is already forcing Graffiti to share the platform with the ever-more-popular thumboard.
* It's got a high 'cute' factor. Like the Palm V and the Mazda Miata, the Treo 90 has a lot of women saying "It's so cute!" Marketers have long known that if it appeals to women, men will buy it too. I asked Jenny Faubion, a product manager for Handspring if the appeal was intentional. "The Treo 90 was designed to be a sleek, elegant product that would appeal to both men and women, so it was intentional in the sense that we wanted to create a universally appealing product." I think she's saying it's a chick flick guys dig, the 'Gladiator' of Palm OS devices.
* The 90 is the ideal starter PDA, perfect for the college market. It achieves what Palm tried to do with the m100 series. The guts are almost identical to the m130, but the 90 is not clunky in look or feel. It's cool, so it threatens to rule.
* The included software package is top notch. In addition to Wordsmith, you also get the Treo Communicator suite of apps that can use an infrared modem-enabled mobile phone to turn the Treo into a cutting-edge communications tool.
* The thumboard is designed well enough that it's just as effective as Graffiti at navigation and faster at accurate text entry.
* Unlike keyboards and snap-on thumboards, the Treo 90's thumboard is built-in. That's a huge convenience factor. Even better: unlike full-sized keyboards you don't need to set it down on a desk to type. And Palm's biggest strength has always been mobility.
That's a solid checklist from a device that appeared out of nowhere. But Handspring says the Treo 90 was in the plans for a while, even before that fateful conference call in January. The world took Handspring CEO Donna Dubinsky's comment that day that Handspring would shift towards communicators to mean that Handspring would never produce another PDA. Jenny Faubion: "Treo 90 was in the works well before that earnings call when Donna's statements may have been misinterpreted."
Wouldn't it be ironic if Handspring's unexpected child grew up to be the one that achieved highest stardom?
So what were my reasons for getting a Treo 90? Recently I started developing apps with PDA Toolbox and tweaking them directly on the Palm with Quartus RsrcEdit. I needed a color machine for development and testing that ran OS 4.1 and had a card slot. I could have bought a Sony T615 for $20 more, but decided that the Treo's keyboard would present me with new challenges that would be valid in developing apps for future PDAs not dependent on Graffiti. And yes, I was right. Paul Anderson and Rick Sands on the development team at PDA Toolbox spent some serious time making PDAT Treo compatible.
So why will thumboards become so popular? An astounding 90% of Palm users don't install a single third party app on their Palm. Do you really think they've bothered with learning Graffiti? I've handed my 90 to every 'casual' Palm user I know. Every one of them loved the Treo. None noticed the addition of color first. They all instantly were caught by the keyboard.
The Treo 90's 34 keys are well thought out, yielding 200 characters. More than 99% of what you need to type is available with the shift or option key and is marked on the thumboard. The last 1% and international characters are available with the clever 'List' key. Will Rees, who designed the thumboard with Hawkins, says "We went through many iterations of the layout and the behavior of the shift and option modifiers. Several months were spent focusing on making a keyboard that was fast and comfortable for two thumbs and for one-handed use."
Every character you can get out of Graffiti is a few keypresses away. Rees: "We even threw in some fun extras like emoticons (look under the : ). There are also some special characters like the Graffiti Shortcut character that are also available. The command stroke was so important that it was actually given its own button, the Menu button."
Most apps on the Treo 90 function without touching the screen, except, of course, drawing apps. As a rule, if the app functions well with a Stowaway, it will function well on the Treo. Any app worth its sodium chloride includes commands strokes, which the Treo can access with two key presses.
As you would expect, I'm fastest with the Stowaway (using three fingers): 50 wpm, error free. Next is the far-too-often overlooked built-in virtual keyboard (The Treo 90 still has one for night entry): 26 wpm, 8% errors. Graffiti came in at 15 wpm, 26% errors. And the thumboard after a week of usage? 34 wpm, no errors. The surprising thing about the tiny keys is how few mistakes one makes.
With the Treo 90, you lose all your silkscreen-triggered hacks. For some, this is a major issue, but many hacks also offer button access. Button Manager is a solid hack that allows you to launch eight key apps by toggling two with each hardware button:
The freeware Buttons-T lets you launch four more with the hardware buttons and option key:
A freeware hack called Treo Keyboard Utils gives you complete cursor movement and allows you to jump fields with the thumboard:
Two Button Hack keeps the exposed hardware keys from turning the unit on in your pocket or bag. Clock Pop Hack puts the time a keypress away without opening the clear Treo flip cover:
And if you really miss Graffiti, install NewPen. It turns the Treo 90 screen into a Graffiti area. All standard functions and commands seem to work, except shortcuts and these are accessible by keyboard:
It might console Graffiti users to know that the input method of the future will not be virtual keyboard based, like FITALY, or numberpad based, like MessageEase. It will most likely be something we're more used to: voice recognition (VR). It's much faster than scratching OR typing. In the early 90s the inventors of the handheld; Psion, gave up on early VR because the chips couldn't handle the complexity of the human voice. But the chips are vastly bigger and faster now. Engineers have modified Palms to respond to 200 voice commands. OS 5 machines will run on ARM chips which can multitask at speeds up to a gig. These are prime for VR.
I need to point out that no OS 5 VR units are planned, but when they arrive, surely there will be resistance. We always resist change. Whether it's for the better or worse isn't a factor. And when Wi-Fi2 can receive text by thought transference, those VR users are really going to be in an uproar.
His Palm Glitch site has recently been updated with some Treo additions:
The complete text of Kevin Wolfe's interview with Will Rees and Jenny Faubion is available here:
No problems Mike. I'm a big fan of your newsletter!
Back in 1998 I was planning my first backpacking trip, which would take me around the world over good part of a year. I knew nothing of PDAs except for a gut feeling that a PDA and I would make a great team on the road. The options at the time were WinCE, Psion or Palm. I selected a PalmPilot, as it was called back then, for the sake of the user community being so nutty over them. I could certainly tell that from reading the newsgroups.
So there I was, first stop Vancouver Canada, fresh off the plane on one of their typically rainy winter's day. I vividly remember the bus ride into the city, happily scribbling down my thoughts on my iddy biddy Palm III. I used a modem to email my travelogue to the mates back home. My email app was MultiMail Pro Beta. I think I got onto the beta team because I had so many problems with the package prior to embarking. I can tell you now that email is pretty addictive when you're backpacking and doing it 'seat of your pants' style with a Palm III was doubly so.
I wrote a lot during my travels. Along the way I wrote an article for Pen Computing Magazine -- now that was fun. It was 16k document which took 12 hours to input using graffiti! Whenever I had trouble with my software I'd email the developers, and that would sometimes start a line of communication to improve the product.
So that was my first introduction to the Palm community... from email correspondence on my globetrotting Palm III.
By the end of that trip I was absolutely hooked on these little Palm devices. In quiet spots across Canada, USA, UK, Greece, and Turkey, I figured from my battery usage that I'd averaged a crazy 20 hours a week on the Palm and had designed large portions of the MultiMail Pro III user interface (UI) with TealPaint, a great little doodling app. Much of the icons you see in MultiMail Pro were created on my Palm III in a little town called Orillia somewhere north of Toronto. We got stranded up there over Easter weekend when everything was closed and I have a lot of spare time on my hands.
I guess I fell in love with the device during that first globetrotting adventure. I could see its possibilities and in my mind's eye it was a technology ready to explode. My career as a product designer started to look pretty dull, so I followed my passion, started a business that pitched web/UI and icon design service for the Palm developer community. One thing leads to another in business, so for the last year I've been involved with colleagues to create some software of our own.
We're a fun bunch. The community is close knit. I like this quote from AJ Weiner (he was involved in FitalyStamp product):
"The single thing I like best about Palms and Palm development is the camaraderie amongst everyone. In most cases, even competitors are friendly. How many places do you go where people routinely help everyone else? Brings tears to my eyes..."
That really sums up the community. I've had the privilege of meeting many of the guys and girls that crank out much of the software you see on your Palms today and I must say it's been fun.
Launcher X would be the most obvious project, it seems there's been so much hype generated that it's hard to miss. I teamed up last August with Bozidar Benc, who did Launcher III, with the concept to create a new launcher based on Launcher III but with a completely customizable UI which we have called Active Skins(TM). The idea is make skins more than just 'face paint' -- we wanted the skin to be a proper UI layer. By putting active code in there to define the look, layout and behavior of the UI we get a pretty cool skin architecture -- what we can do with it is limited only by our imagination.
The first skins we'll release will be pretty ordinary, but once the excitement of the product launch settles down we hope to put some skins out that will blow some cobwebs off the Palm.
The hype created around this product has been a complete accident. The word got out way too early from a full-page ad we inserted into the Sony Clié magazine that shipped with new devices earlier than we'd anticipated. I frantically put up a website overnight to catch these hits prematurely coming from the ad. Now the real eye-opener was seeing the grapevine effect take place right in front of my eyes, as our hit counter tracked the news of our 'mystery product' propagating around the world via online discussion forums. I guess that's a testament to the success of Launcher III.
If everything had run smoothly we would have been set for a March release, but as things turned out, Bozidar had some unexpected health related family issues which meant he had to take a long break from coding. Since I'm just the UI guy for Launcher X, development pretty much stood still for many months until Bozidar could pick things up again in late May.
Sure. The other big one would be SnapperMail. It's a totally separate venture and it's been in development for nearly a year now. We're putting together an email client that takes off from where MultiMail left us in 2000, when development came to a near halt after it's acquisition by Palm, Inc. In light of 2.5/3G Palm OS Smartphones hitting the market, I saw a real need for an emailer that could download HUGE emails with attachments and open them without fuss or any clunky conversion processes involving proxies and proprietary server technology. Thus the idea for SnapperMail was born.
Beyond the raw functionality and feature-set, I wanted to go to town on the user interface. I wanted a no holds barred design where the UI is 'pure' with no shortcuts made for the sake of coding ease, this is something you see a lot of on Palm OS applications.
We're approaching public beta on this product and I'm pretty buzzed about it. It's cool to do all those things I wanted to do with MultiMail but never got the chance since it wasn't my baby.
What I find satisfying is seeing something conceptualized, brainstormed, refined, and finally implemented run for the very first time. I'm talking about stuff that's never been done before by anyone. That's what I find satisfying. It's always a buzz to do something that's a first.
One of my most vivid memories was seeing our team set a new record for the biggest email attachment to be received on a Palm OS handheld. Handling big files is actually quite a hard problem since everything in Palm OS is only designed to work with a maximum of 64k. The team spent 4 months building a flexible and very optimized database architecture suited to storing unlimited sized email content. The night we got it hooked up and running we set a new record with a 5.5 MB CSV file which broke MultiMail's 2MB record set back in 1999. We had the code downloading and reading ebooks in the message reader one month later! I was pretty satisfied!
I'll have to put on my Biz Dev hat and say the thing that buzzes me the most about OS 5 is that it's lifted Palm out of the doldrums and it's done it much earlier than the analysts had expected. Remember, there was a time not that long ago when people were just waiting for Palm to keel over. OS 5 and a bevy of new device announcements have really put excitement back into the Palm camp.
They didn't let feature-itis get the better of them -- instead they decided to release OS 5 without the crowd pleasers. They opted for good time to market and that is crucial in this fast moving space. It's really put Palm back on track early and THAT'S what I'm excited about.
Hmmmm.... 3 to 5 years is a very long way to look in this space. I doubt I can pick exactly where we'll be in 5 years. For now sorting out a 2-year game plan is challenging, but since you ask here's my guess:
I can see wireless finally coming of age. Up to now, wireless technology has been quite immature with lots of proprietary solutions running on expensive low bandwidth networks. In 3 years I expect the new 2.5 / 3G networks capable of supporting TCP/IP to be ubiquitous and cheap, with that in place I can see Palm handhelds becoming very much a communications device. Email messaging and wireless web access should be pretty big.
On other fronts I can see these devices becoming more personalized and fun much like mobile phones are today. Things like MP3 playback, skinnable interfaces, better sound and graphics will be de rigueur.
With the shift to ARM, processing speeds will increase dramatically and in doing so I expect to see PC formatted files being handled in raw form without needing a conduit. I mean right now all our files go through a conduit, which goes... "let me simplify this file for this weeny little PDA". I expect this type of middle step will become less common and we'll access real files directly from all sorts of origins like email attachments, the memory card, directly from PCs by beaming, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.
I think the e-ink technology that we've seen in prototype form has HUGE potential. I expect in 2 years we'll see the first PDA screens which look just like laser print. That's pretty exciting to imagine. I bet e-books will be pretty big with this kind of technology available.
As for the OS, I expect to see multi-threading in OS 6 and lots of new layers to deal with communication protocols. I can see the OS becoming very much a modular and elegant mix-and-match system. In my mind it'll be capable of supporting many types of devices of all shapes and sizes.
To me a Palm handheld ranks second only to my travel bag and slightly in front of my toothbrush when traveling. :-) These things are great!
Above all else it's a very good way to ditch weight and that's the number one game in town when you're on the move. I use Quickword to write my travel journals and Memo pad to store useful travel notes. I carry a few ebooks on the memory card and read them with DeepReader (beta). I'll usually take SlovoEd, a bilingual dictionary with me, also Noah Pro is handy every now and then for reference. WorldMate is pretty good for keeping on top of time zone changes and currency rates.
Finally where would I be without email? It becomes like this critical link between you and the big wide world out there. When you're country hopping it's about the only way people can reliably talk to you. In my early days I used MultiMail and a Palm modem, it was always fun searching out phone sockets. I got darn good at it after half a year of traveling. More recently I shifted to Eudora, which is a lot more stable, and for a connection I used my Motorola Tri-band world phone with a built in IR modem. Next time I'll use SnapperMail and a Palm OS smartphone with GPRS.
OK... I was in this hostel in Edmonton, Alberta. I got talking to this guy call Ryan there. Now the unusual thing about Ryan was that he actually owned a Palm. This was a pretty rare thing to happen back in 1999. So as ya do, we started a beaming session of unprecedented proportions. Unfortunately the beaming wasn't too successful and Ryan ended up having to hard reset his unit... some 'beaming from flash' tragedy I guess.
At the end of the next day I bump into this guy again...
"So how's it going Ryan?"
"Yeah, pretty good -- I managed to enter all of my 150 addresses back into my Palm. Only took 3 hours"
Well we couldn't help ourselves and started another beaming session, with the same result. Ooops.
He took it quite well really. :-)
Thank you Mike, I've enjoyed it. Parting comments? How about 'Keep cool 'till after school'. That's a good bye saying we used a lot as little Kiwi kids a long time ago. :-)
The list of upcoming interviews includes: Chile, Singapore, Italy, The Philippines, Belgium, South Africa, Bahrain, Barbados, Russia, Romania, Honduras, Saudi Arabia, Greece, Guatemala, Portugal, Slovenia, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Kenya, Croatia, Denmark, South Korea, Indonesia and Oman.
The list of past interviews includes users from: Malaysia, Venezuela, Thailand, New Zealand, Mexico, Argentina, Canada, Switzerland, Spain, Israel, The Netherlands, India, Costa Rica, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Brazil, Britain, China, France, Japan, Norway, Poland, and Turkey. If you are from a country *not* represented on either list, feel free to apply with an an e-mail For consideration.
I hope J. Kevin Wolfe's review of the Treo 90 and it's thumboard technology was enlightening and that Will Lau's insights into the life of a Palm developer have provided a new view of Palm developers and how they benefit the Palm community.
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A great August to you all!
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