Feature Article
Handspring Visor - And What I Want In A PDA

Ovtober 1, 1999
By Scott Lewis

Last year I bought a Palm III at Oracle’s OpenWorld Conference (and convinced my company to pay for it). Now I am very glad they paid for it. I had to give up my laptop to another co-worker, and since then I never installed the software for the Palm III. Its batteries died a couple of months ago just sitting on my desk.

But why? In a nutshell, it is too hard for me to use. I know, I am a computer nerd with more knowledge of computers than most technical support people. But that doesn’t mean I can write Graffiti while driving my car. But what I see on the horizon is very promising.

Handspring is a company that was started a little over a year ago by the two people that design the PalmPilot. I looked for them to get and IPO (they still haven’t as far as I can tell). I knew they would come up with something a lot better than the Palm series.

Now they have. Their first product is the Visor. It is basically a PalmPilot, but a lot more. This device looks quite a bit like the Palm series and even uses the same Palm Operating System (Palm OS). This means the Visor can run any software written for the Palm III, IIIe, IIIx, and V, etc.

What makes the Visor special? Three main things: 1) It is cheaper than a Palm. It comes in three flavors currently ranging in price from $150 - $250. 2) It uses the much faster USB port instead of the serial port to sync up with a PC or Mac. And 3) It is hardware expandable.

There are a number of minor improvements that also come with the Visor like more memory, 5 colors, leather case, and improved applications. But it is the hardware expansion that will really drive this product to the top of the PDA market. Yes, the top of the market. When there are enough add-ons for the Visor it will be the #1 PDA. You heard it here first.

Hardware add-ons plug into the back of the Visor through a slot. These add-ons give the Visor almost limitless increases in functionality. Cell phones, pagers, modems, MP3 players, GPS devices, games, etc., etc. You will even be able to attach a keyboard directly to the Visor (this is done by replacing the cradle with a keyboard).

These features will make the Visor the hot PDA to have. Most of these hardware devices will contain their own software, so you won’t have to install the software on the Visor. Just plug in the module, and start using it. Real Plug & Play, unlike Microsoft/Intel’s Plug & Pray.

Since most of these products are not available yet (most are due out by the end of the year, and some in 2000) it is a little early to tell which items will really sell. Trust me the Visor will sell, barring Handspring coming out with a superior and incompatible product.

What about my Palm III? Will I replace it with a Visor? Not yet, but maybe someday. The problem with PDAs for me is they lack good voice recording and translation. There is a voice recorder in the works for the Visor, but it will be limited to 16 minutes of recording. Not terrible, but I would prefer more. However, it won’t transcribe my verbal notes into text. That’s what I need in a PDA. Handspring, are you listening?

Here is my list of features I need in a PDA:

  1. Voice recording with transcribing. I need to be able to record notes and have them converted to text to paste into applications like Word or even Notepad.
  2. Check book integration. I use MS Money (2000 currently) to balance my checkbook. I need to be able to enter checks when I write them, and then be able to upload that information to my home PC seamlessly.
  3. A combination of the first two. Entering checks into the PDA should be handled by voice command, and when synced up with my PC it should enter the appropriate transactions into my banking software.
  4. While on voice command all the basic functions, especially using the calendar, should be by voice command.
  5. Color. Sorry, I just prefer a decently lit color screen.
  6. A battery pack that recharges while the PDA is in its cradle. I should also be able to plug in a couple of alkaline batteries in a pinch when I am away from the cradle for long periods of time.
  7. I wouldn’t mind playing MP3 files or a few games for when standing in long lines somewhere.
  8. Another nice to have would be the ability to have e-mail messages read to me. (These last two items will not sway my decision to buy a PDA, but might effect which PDA I buy.)

Simple! When they build a PDA that does good voice commands and transcribing of recorded notes I will be first in line to buy one. Now... how do I get my company to pay for it?

What do you want in a PDA? Let me know.

See you next month.