Small, beautiful, fast and economical - Apple's new PDA

Summary:If Apple was to launch a palm sized PDA, what would it look like? What would it do? What wouldn't it do?

As soon as Steve Jobs unveiled the curvaceous new iBook at this year's Macworld Expo, hoards of Mac fans began screaming for more. What they really want now is a hand-held iMac to complete the set -- an iPocket dressed in Apple's five fruity colours.

So here is a rough impression of what the new "iPocket" could look like. It must be stressed, however, that this purely speculative and that at no point during our inquiries did Apple actually reveal anything to us.

Fruity formula
It is unlikely Apple will stray away from its fruity translucent formula for the iPocket's design. One expert says, "Apple's whole awareness has been re-invented by the iMac and there is no way they're going to go back to some square grey thing. I guess it will either be ingenious or just over-hyped."

Mac enthusiasts, who it seems can't get enough of see-through blueberry and tangerine echo this sentiment. Editor of applelink.com Joe Ryan, believes the future is undoubtedly brightly coloured and ergonomically formed. "The iMac style is very recognisable, so why go backwards," he says. "Innovation is the million dollar question. I think an iMac PDA would probably look something like the iBook, but it would be great if they could have a detachable keyboard or something."

The iPocket would be blessed with the same economic design principles as its siblings -- only much smaller -- and those relatively modest specifications must bring into question the sort of technology an Apple PDA would sport. That is not say the Macintosh faithful won't hope for everything under the sun. William C Stratas, President of Planetcast.com and self confessed Apple-addict, says he "would like it to have wireless connectivity with water-resistant shell/keypad and drop-proof shockproof enclosure. Plus a microphone/speaker to handle Internet voice-mail." Nothing too extravagant then.

A Psion spokesman believes Apple's pricing of the iPocket will be crucial. "There are so many different technologies that could feature, but they will all be dependent on cost. Apple has a significant interest in the education market and more expensive technology may not be important there," the spokesman says.

There are also suggestions that Apple may experience various other difficulties moving into the PDA market. For example, although hand-held computing is moving towards greater wireless integration, some have expressed doubts that Apple would excel in this area. The source at Psion suggests Apple's recent absence from this market could prove a stumbling block: "The most progressive wireless PDA technology is coming from European companies. Although Apple pioneered PDAs with the Newton, they haven't done anything since then. It depends how critical wireless technology is to Apple's target audience."

A possible solution would be to use Bluetooth technology. Although in it's infancy, this is an area of growing importance for the PDA market and Apple is clearly taking an interest. MacWireless, an independent California based company dedicated to producing wireless technology for Macintosh computers admits this is something it is looking into. "We are looking into what we can do with Bluetooth for Apple users," says a spokesperson. "If they [Apple] come out with a PDA, then we'll see what we can do with that."

Another tricky area is the choice operating system. There is the possibility that an Apple PDA could incorporate the open source BSD operating system, which is the foundation for the new desktop Mac OS10. Some Linux purists have even suggested their beloved OS could be adapted and scaled to work on a PDA. This seems slightly impractical for the uses of PDA is put to and it is unlikely Apple would invest the cost and effort, especially given its commitment to concentrating resources from now on.

Horrified Macites?
Using a non-Macintosh OS might horrify the Apple faithful but Randy Guisto, manager of mobile research at research giant IDC, believes this would be the only effective method of producing an appealing PDA. "I don't think they would choose Windows CE for political reasons but if they want to produce more of a fully connective device, the Palm OS would probably be best. They may be forced to use this system by industry pressure for them to support industry standards of connectivity."

Today's release of an "iMac inspired" Palm IIIe not only confirms a close synergy between Apple and Palm computing, but will also undoubtedly whip-up more speculation as to what a real iMac PDA would be like. Rumours abound that Apple is sweet-talking Palm into some sort of deal and Alex Summersby, editor of Mac format magazine, believes that the Palm OS would be the most practical solution for an Apple PDA. "I can't see Apple being very keen on getting back into the PDA market themselves but they might let someone else such as Palm produce an Apple branded machine. Palm are currently using the hand recognition technology developed by Apple for the Newton and other software developed from Claris Organiser."

The choice of operating system would inevitably have a bearing on the microprocessor used to drive the machine. According to principle analyst at Gartner Group Dataquest, Joe Delia, if Apple did use the Palm OS, it would be forced to use the 68 300 Motorola chip or one of its derivatives making the machine relatively slow. There are other options however. Senior analyst at Microprocessor Report, Peter Glaskowski says that if the Palm OS and its applications are sufficiently portable and adaptable an Apple PDA could use a streamlined version of Apple's power PC chip, making it super fast, economic and powerful.

OK, gimme color...
The screen is another feature that would probably be based on someone else's technology. Apple has just announced plans to invest $100m (£61m) in Samsung electronics the company responsible for the iBook's flat-panel screen, indicating that a Samsung made, colour screen could be an option making it perfect for games, the Internet and even MP3. We cannot imagine Apple missing MP3.

And finally, no iMac product would be complete without a few funky extras. Summersby believes it could be a multimedia fun-fest. "This is a rapidly evolving area," he says. "Speakers wouldn't actually be too difficult and a colour screen shouldn't be that hard theoretically but I'd perhaps draw the line at an in-built video camera."

So what we're left with is a sexy bit of kit that's really a mish-mash of components within.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Operating Systems

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