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JULY 1999 | VOL. 3, NO. 7



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DAN SULLIVAN is a contibuting writer for Renaissance Online Magazine.


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NOTE: The Bytes & Picas section now features news and reviews of the gadget culture, including video games, technology, the internet and marketing strategies.

Palm Pilot Pectorals
3Com's Life-Shaping Technology

DAN SULLIVAN

3Com, makers of computer networking cards, and buyers of US Robotics and Candlestick Park, are responsible for a preventable physical deformity.

3Com's Palm VII

Saggy Left Boob, or SLB, is caused by the popular 3Com Palm Pilot. This handheld organizer weighs a quarter-pound, fits into your shirt pocket, and causes significant shirt-drag over a person's left nipple.

Unless the owner of the Pilot has a physique resembling Schwarzenegger's, the shirt-drag creates a Quasimodo-esque reverse hump. The types of people who can afford $350 scheduling gadgets which have the equivalent efficiency of $20 Day Runner organizers, are corporate engineers, middle-managers, or overpaid marketing personnel.

These types of people are not especially pretty. SLB doesn't help them.

3Com has released a new gadget, the Palm VII, which promises to worsen the Saggy Left Boob problem. It's heavier, expensive (estimated retail price of $599), and even more appealing to the gadgetly addicted. This thing has wireless Internet. That's right, flip up a McDonanld's french-fry sized antenna, and you're checking how those Star Trek collector plates are doing on eBay.

One may accurately guess that the developers of the Palm VII are eBay fanatics. You know the type. Hidden Netscape windows on their desktops, eyeing the recycle bucket in favor of travelling to the bathroom for fear of losing the beanie baby Iggy the Iguana to some flunky grandmother with an iMac in Mississippi. Now he's always prepared. He's bidding in the car, bidding at the breakfast table, and bidding in the elevator. He's a bidding freak, and no one can stop him.

The Palm VII, of course, can only access the Internet though 3Com's proprietary ISP. This means $9.95 a month for 50K worth of downloads, or $24.99 a month for 150K, plus 30 cents a kilobyte after that. The VII's web surfing is not graphically friendly, but sufficient for checking stock prices, how bad the Boston Celtics lost last night's game, or how much your Palm III is selling for on eBay.

To the megabyte-challenged, 50K is barely the space needed for a low-res download of a Pamela Anderson pict file. Unlike VHS and DVD, pornography fanatics won't assure the Palm VII's success.

Given these features, one can expect Palm VII owners to never disconnect from the unit. SLB will be rampant to Palm VII owners. Be kind. Try not to stare.

You can send and receive e-mail with the Palm VII, but one must learn 3Com's Graffiti writing code. This English-esque chicken scratch is old-hat to Palm Pilot veterans, but it can be confusing to the newbies. After dropping two car payments on the Palm VII, you'll learn. Wireless e-mail is cool, until you realize the fake free trip to Disney message pushed you over your 50K a month payment plan.

Palm's pricing for the internet service is reminiscent of old AOL, or phone sex lines. You pay as you use it. But let's face it, if you have $599 to spend on a DayTimer that needs AAA batteries, $25 extra a month won't kill you.

The Palm VII could replace your cell phone, pager, and planner. What is also possible is that the VII could replace your computer. If you'll never research a term paper, web-stream a concert, or download huge pornographic data files through the Internet, then maybe all you need is the Palm VII. Basic e-mail, text-based web surfing are available without tying up a phone line at the price of an e-machine.

Apple Computer's Newton had the same capabilities as the VII, minus wireless connections. Web surfing, e-mail, even faxing was possible through their pitifully-slow 9,600 bps external modem. The Newton was trashed by the press because of problematic handwriting recognition, essentially corrected in version 2.0 of their operating system but the damage was done. The Newton was the PDA that not only could, but did, but was twice the cost of the Palm Pilot and not shirt-pocket friendly. If one had a shirt pocket big enough to fit a Newton, the SLB would be crippling. Also, the PC-synching of a Newton was difficult (Macs and Newtons synched with no problems), but the Pilot has always taken your Outlook/Now-Up-To-Date/You-Name-It-Electronic-Planner schedule and replicated it with ease.

Will the Palm VII escape the fate of the Newton? Probably. The VII is the latest in a long line of successful Pilots, in a healthy economy, and that wireless stock checkin' is hard to beat.

Go to the Palm web site (www.palm.com) and you'll be treated to a virtual tour of the VII. Techies, bring a bib to catch the drool. 3Com did an outstanding job of promoting this product on their site,

Do you need a Palm VII? Ask yourself, do you want to lose Iggy to Bertha in Mississippi?

I didn't think so.

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