USR (2) - Pilots could get modem comms

Follows on from previous story.

There again, the amount of Pilot software available now defies classification. For example aweiner@highway1.com is creating an English-to-Klingon dictionary, based on a standard dictionary hack. There's a Tricorder program to enable Trekkies to "scan" their surroundings (with full sound effects, apparently, but sadly disappointing in its ability to locate life-forms) and even a spreadsheet.

Rudimentary browser hacks are available on the open market too, but plans for a full USR-sourced TCP/IP stack are now almost definitely official, and a "pocket e-mail" program is said to be held under wraps while USR worked on a piece of add-on technology - a modem. If the modem is ready, it will cost $139.

The problem with an add-on modem is simple: in order to drive the phone, it needs to draw significant battery power. Modern DSP chips needed for 28.8Kbit/sec speeds probably require more power than Pilot users would be prepared to provide from their internal pair of AAA cells. As an example of the problem, the Windows CE machine uses two AA cells to give it a typical 10-hour usage cycle, which can be cut to just one hour by plugging in a standard modem PC Card. The Pilot's smaller cells are more parsimonious with current, lasting 40 hours or more (similar to the Psion Series 3) and would be killed off in a few minutes by a modem.

So USR's plan is to provide a lower-power 14.4 Kbit/sec modem with its own battery. It would plug onto the end of the Pilot, and have an RJ-11 socket for phone wires.

No pricing is available for the new models, beyond that the Personal is expected to be similar to the current 512Kb model. And the other hardware upgrade which users all really want would be a "proper" sound facility: the Pilot today is barely audible, and doesn't have the ability to create phone dialling dual-tones, for example, let alone synthesised music or voice. But no information is available on this, yet.

More information is expected to leak out next week, after various non-disclosure agreements expire.

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