Despite its recent troubles, Microsoft has not stopped trying to forecast what sort of computing consumers will want in the future.
One of the software giant’s predictions is that electronic personal organisers are going to become very popular – hence the launch in April of Pocket PC, a version of its Windows CE operating system designed for palmtop computers.
The first Pocket PC-enabled device in the shops was Hewlett-Packard’s Jornada 540, designed by UK-based agency Alloy and incorporating a number of advances on the standard hand-sized machine.
The task for Alloy was to make a fairly functional device seem a bit funkier, according to chairman Guy Desbarats. `HP have a very strong brand, but the associations are fairly pedantic, techy and boring,’ he says. `The challenge was to keep that strength but bring in enough style so that it doesn’t look clunky. One of our performance objectives was to create something like the Swiss army knife, something with a universal functional appeal – not trivially stylish but very elegant.’
One new departure was the integrated lid, which does away with the need for a carrying case. Although HP originally specified that the design should not include a lid, Alloy’s team felt that some kind of protection would be useful on a device which is designed to be lifted in and out of the user’s pocket.
`We effectively had to satisfy the brief with enough normal versions and then throw in an oddball one with a built-in lid, which was more in keeping with what we believed consumers needed,’ he says.
The clincher was the fact that the lid could hold a stylus which was chunkier and easier to hold than the toothpick-like ones usually found on palmtops – something which went down well with consumers when HP researched the market.
The next step was to use materials to give a more pleasing feel, with surfaces made of anodised aluminium and a protective rubber strip around the outside edge. The idea is that with word processing, spreadsheet, e-mail and money management software as well as the usual diary programs, this type of palmtop will offer more than previous devices.
`We wanted it to feel less plasticky than some of them do,’ Desbarats says. `These things are now useful enough that they will become the one thing you carry around.’
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