Peek at Sony PDA
Prototype Under Glass
by Stephen Jones (June 30, 2000)
When a giant whispers, you listen. Case-in-point: Sony's much anticipated press conference about its first foray into PDA territory was arguably the most highly anticipated event of PC Expo.
So, you can imagine all the drooling journalists lapping up whatever scraps of information Sony cared to dish out. Well, we love speculative journalism as much as the next rag, so here we offer the information scraps and speculative drool from the event.
Sony is developing a Palm OS based PDA as a result of a recent licensing agreement with Palm Computing. They showed off a prototype-under-glass, as it were, and an artist's rendering (above).
Other than the OS, we learned little except that it will feature a color display, a Memory Stick(TM) slot in the top and a Jog Dial(TM) on the side for one-handed, scroll-and-select operations.
The prototype's dimensions were quoted as being 23/4" (W) x 4 1/2" (H) x 5/8" (D).
Sony also hinted (ever so slyly) at "digital imaging capabilities."
...hitting the same consumer electronics nerve as it has with the Walkman, PlayStation, Mavica.
Imagine Sony doing a PDA...
...with the same craftsmanship and clean design it has shown in its other products.
Imagine Sony doing a Palm-OS PDA...
...based on the proven, leading handheld platform with features and a form factor already embraced fervently by consumers.
Imagine Sony doing a Palm-OS PDA with digital imaging features...
...so vaguely hinted at but so full of promise.
Picking the Palm OS was a master stroke but did not require much imagination. After all, Sony was able to sit back and watch last Fall as the demand for the HandSpring Visor outpaced manufacturing capacity.
So, assume they got the design, technical specs, and manufacturing right (come on, this is Sony we're talking about), then they'll have a solid PDA contender, no doubt.
But, what special something might emerge to make this either a category dominator or resounding dud?
The one Achilles' heel could be the Memory Stick(TM) which Sony is stubbornly promoting throughout its product lines despite its sparse acceptance in the marketplace. I think they see the Sony PDA as the great integrator that bridges between their other Memory Stick(TM) products.
If they are right, the PDA will be everyone's excuse to buy other Sony products and gobs of Memory Sticks(TM). On the other hand, people might sense the lock-in strategy and decide that a different Palm PC with a CompactFlash slot offers more freedom. You can't plug a 1GB IBM Microdrive in a Memory Stick(TM) slot, now can you?
But, any downside could be trumped by other gotta-have-it factors. For instance, the Jog Dial(TM) is oh-so cool because it enables cell-phone-like one-handed operation. But, other PDA's sport similar controls or will emulate them quickly.
So, where's the zinger, the draw-dropping, killer feature? Clearly, the tease about "digital imaging capabilities" is Sony's ace-in-the-hole. But, what could that mean?
At minimum, I think it means you'll be able to pop in a Memory Stick(TM) into your Sony PDA hot from your late-model Mavica digital camera or Sony camcorder and review and/or edit your images. OK, that's a nice to have, not a gotta-have.
We've come to expect more from Sony. So, if I was to speculate what "digital imaging" features Sony's PDA will have, I'd venture this:
Consider that nearly every digital camera includes a video out port. The components for this must already be darned cheap and small.
Consider, too, that the Macromedia Flash engine has already been ported to the Palm platform.
So, my wild guess and/or heartfelt wish is:
Sony will add a video-out port and bundle lightweight presentation software with the device.
Such a bold move would simultaneously make the Sony PDA a must-have, portable presentation tool among the roadshow/sales crowd as well as among proud Mama's and Papa's showing off vacation photos.
We'll have to wait and see. But, if Sony follows its media convergence instincts far enough, the Sony PDA could be a breakthrough multimedia integrator that lives up to the hype and becomes the gadget everyone will want in hand.
Alas, the latest specs of the Sony PDA suggest that the digital imaging feature alluded to above will be the ability to play digital video. While that's nice and keeps the Sony PDA on a par with Pocket PCs, we can always hope that Sony will inject a few unannounced surprises (like my suggestion above) into the production model or a later model.
© 2006 Stephen Jones All rights reserved.