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Should we call them computicators?

New electronic gadgets let you conduct business anywhere. Soon, they'll even anticipate your needs.

Devices on the market or in the works put loads of information at users' fingertips. Some of the so-called "palmtop" products can transmit fax or e-mail messages, retrieve information, organize schedules and record notes. In order to keep mobile professionals truly mobile, these products are powered by batteries or battery packs and often can communicate via cellular or other wireless technology.

An example of the latest hand-held technology comes from Hewlett-Packard Co. Its HP 95LX is roughly the size of a thick checkbook, weighing 11 ounces. It looks like a pocket organizer but is geared toward computer users. It comes standard with Lotus 1-2-3 and other software, and some 500 different programs have been developed to make the device work for insurance agents, physicians, real-estate agents, sales people and bond traders.

The 95LX can transfer files and connect to printers and modems. Its organizational applications are handy: an appointment book, a phone book and a memo function. An alarm can be set to remind users of especially important engagements.

Its biggest negative may be the tiny keyboard. "It is definitely something a person would not use if they're going to be doing a lot of letter writing or things like that," says Lucy Honig of Hewlett-Packard. "But it is designed to be a very, very powerful PC that is unconsciously portable."

The tiny keyboard is not a problem with another breed of hand-held electronic gizmos. IBM and EO both have pen-based products already available, and one from Apple is on the way.

IBM's ThinkPad 710T is quite a bit larger than a typical palmtop device, but provides similar convenience. According to Bob Kehlor, personal computer product manager for IBM Indiana, the practical uses for IBM's tablet are many--but mostly revolve around "anybody who has to fill out forms," such as service technicians, insurance agents, real-estate brokers, meter readers and census takers.

But it's not just an electronic form with a stylus. The IBM tablet can be used to take notes that then can be converted to type. With a variety of ports, the 710T can be connected to an external display for presentations or to other peripherals that can enhance productivity. "You can connect it to a keyboard, mouse and a printer and run it like a regular computer," Kehlor says, "and then unplug everything and take it with you."

EO Inc.'s Personal Communicator models 440 and 880 are pen-based too, but allow for more communications tasks. Marketed by AT&T, the lightweight products (2.2 and 4.0 pounds, respectively) package fax capabilities, electronic mail, cellular phone and personal computing. "EO is a way for people to get in touch with each other right away," says Miller.

For example, she says, a professional on the road doesn't have to wait to go back to the office to retrieve e-mail messages--she can read them wherever she is with her personal communicator. Instead of going back to the hotel to send a fax, she can send one by writing it out and selecting the proper command. If she chooses, she can convert hand printing to type or leave it in handwritten form. And because the EO 440 and 880 have built-in fax capabilities, executives will no longer have to rely on the lack of security surrounding hotel or other public fax machines.

Later this year, Apple will unveil its long-awaited "personal digital assistant" products, or PDAs, which are better known as Newtons. Actually, the name Newton refers not to a product but rather to a technology that will be used in future Apple products.

Just like IBM's and EO's products, these Apple devices can transform handwriting into standard type, and they have built-in organizing utilities. That's where the similarity ends. Apple devices with Newton technology are not designed to be mini PCs or communicators but to act as digital assistants. "It's not a palmtop computer--that's not the purpose of it," says Sue Bowdoin of Apple. "It's to make people's lives easier."

A Newton device has a user-friendly interface that enables users--with the help of a stylus--to store, retrieve, manipulate and communicate information flexibly. Through wired and wireless connections, these products can communicate with printers, fax machines, pagers and computers.

The first product even comes with a built-in amusement factor: sound effects. When users request a phone number, trash a file, look for a phone number or retrieve an address, the device responds with the appropriate sound: flipping through a card file, crumpling a piece of paper, turning pages or opening a file cabinet drawer.

But Newton technology will allow the PDAs to do more than just make noise. They'll actually assist the users in accomplishing what they need to do. According to Apple, these devices will anticipate what needs to be done to complete a task and take the initiative to help out. They'll learn about the way users like to do things and will change to accommodate their approach.

These products wouldn't be nearly as powerful and useful to professionals without supporting technology.

One example is AT&T's Hobbit microprocessor, the driving force behind EO's personal communicators. It's a platform that combines special communications advantages and high performance with low power consumption.

Another comes from a company called General Magic, which, with help from Apple, AT&T, Matsushita, Motorola, Philips and Sony, is developing technology to bring personal intelligent communications to people.

"We're setting standards--in the area of communications, in the area of personal intelligent communication devices," says Jane Anderson of the California-based company. "Our goal is to make Telescript an open standard."

Telescript is a programming language designed by General Magic to support intelligent communications between devices. For example, IBM and EO products, if equipped with Telescript, will be able to talk with each other.

Magic Cap, General Magic's Communicating Applications Platform, serves as a foundation for developers to create communicating applications that are mobile, intelligent, friendly, easy to personalize and enjoyable to use.

For now, General Magic will not be manufacturing its own product, just licensing its technology. And this technology--when incorporated in various personal intelligent communicators, or PICs--will help people to remember and keep track of things to do, places to go and people to see, as well as communicate with family and business associates.

"PIC devices will take away the vague, frustrating aspects of life," Anderson adds. "It's not going to just influence straight business ... because personal and business are intertwined."

"I think it's going to free up the business world to be able to do business whenever they want, as opposed to being tied down by having to do certain things at their desks and having to do things in other places," says Honig of Hewlett-Packard. "I think in the near future we're going to see that people can conduct business at their convenience."

Jerry Michalski, editor of the Release 1.0 computer newsletter and fan of personal communicators, sounds a warning. "All of these personal pocket communicators--and I would include pagers and cellular phones, too--have the potential to control people," he says. "The possibility is clearly open that the people who buy them can infringe on employees' free time."

But, Michalski quickly adds, manufacturers are "empowering workers" by allowing users to screen calls and reroute messages.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Curtis Magazine Group, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:innovative personal computer devices for business use
Author:Gilbert, Jo
Publication:Indiana Business Magazine
Article Type:Industry Overview
Date:May 1, 1993
Previous Article:Meeting on the tube.
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