Tiqit eightythree

Today, I had the opportunity to view and use up close the new Tiqit eightythree handheld computer. The eightythree combines the portability of a handheld computer with the power of a Windows desktop PC. Powered by a National Semiconductor Geode processor at 266-300MHz, the eightythree runs Windows, Linux, or UNIX, and is equipped with a powerful array of ports for PC Cards, Secure Digital cards, USB peripherals, a headphone, an earbud/mic, IrDA, and docking station support.

The eightythree has a 640×480 TFT (18-bit) color screen which works well indoors but is difficult to read out in direct sunlight. I don’t know any laptop or tablet manufacturer which is using a transflective LCD screen like the ones used by the Compaq iPaq or Palm m515. Those screens are easily readable in direct sunlight without having to use the backlight. I’m no LCD expert, but I wonder if there is a manufacturing issue with creating large transflective LCD’s for laptops. It’s all going to be moot in a few years anyhow when OLED screens come out into the marketplace.

The eightythree is an intriguing device. It will probably meet with more success in specific vertical markets than in the general consumer marketplace. I can see mobile professionals using the device while on the road. People who spend a lot of time commuting by train or plain will find the eightythree small and portable enough to use on those cramped coach seats. I’m not wild about the four hours of battery life, but considering its size and functionality, I can’t complain too much. I could see myself using this device as a travelling photojournalist. The ability to offload my photos to a 10GB drive is compelling, as is the ability to use existing desktop PC hardware and software.

Tiqit does face an uphill battle, however. Devices that blur the line between a laptop and handheld have been done before — see Newton, Libretto, and Windows CE come — but none ever made a significant dent in the marketplace. Microsoft’s trying again with the Tablet PC, but Tiqit’s closest competitor has got to be OQO and their Ultra Personal Computer. OQO’s made press waves with their product, but I don’t know if anyone has actually seen it running. There’s not too much information on OQO’s web site either. If there is, I can’t find it, as the site is an excellent example why you shouldn’t use Flash to design and build your web site!

Tiqit’s going to be featured at a conference later this month. Perhaps by then we’ll have some more information to share on the product. Until then, salivate your Tiqit desires with the pictures above of the eightythree with Mike, Randy, and Po’k on California Avenue in Palo Alto.

Speaking of future products, the next version of Mac OS X, dubbed Jaguar, will have a “new” feature called Inkwell that will enable handwriting recognition in any application that supports text. Hmmm… I wonder where this technology comes from??? You didn’t think I would leave out my customary plug for Newton here, did you? Yes, Inkwell is derived from the Newton’s excellent handwriting recognition (HWR) engine that was introduced in Newton OS 2.0.

Rosetta (or Mondello as it was also known) was the name of this in-house developed HWR engine. It kicked ass over the Newton’s original HWR engine, and it kicks ass today when compared with PocketPC’s Transcriber or Palm’s Graffiti character-based recognition system.

The Newton’s original handwriting recognizer was created by Paragraph, a Russian company whose technology was bought by a number of companies, including Vadem (i.e. the Vadem Clio Windows CE device) and Microsoft. That’s right, Transcriber, loaded on today’s PocketPC’s handheld computers, is a descendant of the Newton!

Inkwell requires the use of an input tablet, and the rumors mills are saying that Apple is working with Wacom to make sure that the Wacom tablets support Inkwell. I for one am glad that some pieces of Newton are seeing the light of day. From the poof graphic of the OS X Dock to the colored plastics of the first iMac to Inkwell, it goes to show that Newton is still with us!

Does Apple have anything resembling a tablet PC or a handheld in the dev labs at 1 Infinite Loop? Wait and see!

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