Wherefore iPAQ

11 September 2016

Before the iPhone and before the iPad there was the PDA. I owned a variety of them including the Palm 3xe, the Palm V, and, a device I was truly connected to, the HP iPAQ 4155. (Sadly I never owned a Palm Tungsten.)

WiFi at Cornell quickly became ubiquitous when I arrived in August 2001. Classrooms, libraries, and cafeterias were covered. Taking out my laptop to see where my next meeting was (and still is) cumbersome. Using pencil and paper seemed (and still seems) silly. PDAs, unfortunately, were both expensive and slow to adopt WiFi. Lacking WiFi meant constantly synchronizing with a computer over a physical cable. Blasphemy! My goal was to find a product that could help manage my schedule, and stay up-to-date on email which clearly required WiFi. (Don’t even think about mobile data; it didn’t exist.)

The iPAQ was the perfect device. Yes, even with Microsoft Windows Mobile 2003. I purchased it in 2004 for $400 (expensive considering most of my money went to pizza and Saranac) along with software to allow it to synchronize with iCal over a USB to serial converter. Unfortunately, iSync didn't support Windows Mobile.

Let’s review why it was so amazing:

  1. It had a real email client (Outlook). This was significant because Mac users for a long time were forced to use Eudora. At the time Cornell also provided a horrendous webmail client named SquirrelMail. Side note: We also only had a few megabytes of storage. This forced me to delete the email conversation I had with a Winklevoss about features ConnectU was missing that thefacebook had. He said he was aware, and that Zuckerburg stole everything from them. 2004.
  2. It had a real web browser (Internet Explorer). With a little finagling it could also support Flash which was helpful in 2004.
  3. It had a summary screen that is still better than what iOS and Android offer (upcoming appointments, new emails, etc.). Fortunately I believe this will change in iOS 10 with widgets.
  4. It was small and light just like my Sony Ericsson T28, T68i, and T610.
  5. Its battery lasted all day even with WiFi turned on and borderline obsessive use.

One downside is it required a stylus, but it was a pre-touch world. I’ll forgive this because typing emails with a status is arguably better than fingertips. I don’t know why typing on a touch screen is so difficult for me. Am I too old (yes)?

I remember once Professor Jeff Hancock announced that the first person to email him would be allowed to attend some event. Guess who was first. Guess who proudly announced that he was first. Yes, me and me. Even Professor Hancock seemed surprised: “Oh you must have one of those mobile devices.” Thoroughly.

Interesting (in my opinion) side note: When I was an intern at Apple in 2002 (I’m so old), several executives (including Steve Jobs, Tony Fadell, Avie Tevanian, and Jon Rubinstein) gave lectures and Q&A sessions specifically for interns. One intern asked an executive when Apple was going to build a PDA. He casually removed his flip-phone from his pocket and said, “We believe this is the future of the PDA.” 2002.

The iPhone is great, but everyone has one. There was something exciting about being years ahead of the trend. Unfortunately, I think the only way to achieve this feeling again is to wear Google Glass and look like an idiot.

UPDATE: I now own Spectacles.