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A History Lesson with Hawkins

Tue Nov 13, 2001 - 5:20 PM EST - By James Hromadka

A Brief History of PDAs

Today Jeff Hawkins, Handspring's Chief Product Officer, outlined key elements of the history of mobile computing. Taking the history of mobile computers as far back as the Osbourne, it was a nice trip down memory lane as Hawkins talked about handhelds history from his perspective.

As Hawkins outlined the history of mobile computing, he mentioned the pros and cons of some of the devices, including those that he helped develop while he was at GRiD computing. When he got to the Pocket PC, Hawkins said that he didn't "believe the Pocket PC will be a long-term player." Taken out of context that remark could be construed as a slam against Microsoft, but I believe that Hawkins was speaking in the grand scheme of things. Plenty of people (including Hawkins )have said that the future is all about wireless.

Not that Hawkins didn't take a few shots at Microsoft. When he outlined the keys of handheld computers: size, ease of use, reliability, and utility, Hawkins used an image of the Scandisk screen for his slide on reliability (the crowd gave a good laugh on that one). After tallying up how often he saw that screen, Hawkins said that 200 lifetimes are spent each year looking at that blue Scandisk screen that comes up after Windows crashes.

Hawkins sees wireless as something that will be ubiquitous in the future. By that time, current handhelds like the Visor and Pocket PC will become the middle to low end of the market. Over time, cell phones, pagers, and handhelds will converge into one device: the Treo, or something very similar. Devices over time will get smaller and better. An AddressBook lookup on the PalmPilot took two hands and six steps. On the Treo, which is much smaller, that same action takes one hand and only three steps.

Hawkins also saw security as a reality that will need to be dealt with. At some point, carriers must be ready to deal with having 800 million users connected to the Internet at the same time. That's a lot of IP addresses to protect.

The Treo is a perfect representation of Hawkins' vision of the future of mobility. I only wish I could take it home with me today. According to Hawkins, the Treo 180 series will be released in late December / early January, while the Treo 270 won't be too long of a wait -- it will be released in March/April.

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