Could the answer to the HPC conundrum be a trip to the dark side

Could the latest Pocket PC release be our savior?

I posted a item on the Handheld PC news group some months ago about the pending release of Pocket PC 2003. Well, that day is upon us. 23rd June 2003 will forever be remembered as the first day of the release of Pocket PC 2003, or as it shall hence forth be known: Windows Mobile 2003.

I was reading an overview of WM 2003, which was a fairly uninspired one in the August issue of Personal Computer World magazine. The new features in WM 2003 are themselves fairly uninspired and can barely be classed as evolutionary, at least as far as where general PDA's are concerned.
The main areas of evolution in the new release are in the field of communications technologies. Bluetooth stack improvements, wider array of Wireless device support, IPv6, and security protocols all foot the bill, which actually even I have to admit makes the new device quite a formidable opponent. Mainly down to the revised CE 4.2 core.

It then struck me, The Pocket PC Operating System is essentially a Shell, GUI and API set that sits on top of the CE core Operating System. We know, thanks to Siemens with their Tablet PC's and from my own experiments with Platform Builder 4.1, that current line of HPCs can run the 4.x core;

The question I found myself asking was

Why couldn't a HPC run with the Windows Mobile 2003 front end?

Could this be the future of the Handheld PC?The embedded operating system is just a block of code that loads specific drivers which, when the necessary hardware is found are mounted for use by the system. As far as it the OS should be concerned a IrDA port is an IrDA port, touch Screen a touch screen, CF slot a CF slot irrespective of whether its on the side of a Clamshell Handheld PC or a QVGA Pocket PC.
The only difficulty would be with the Resolution and the Keyboard, as there are obvious native differences between the two. However I don't see why a Keyboard and VGA driver couldn't be ported over from one of the other Modules in Platform Builder for the task.

Technical aspects aside, the obvious questions is does the UI offered by the familiar HPC 2000, 3, 2 and 1 platform make the HPC a HPC. Could & would HPC users be happy to use the Pocket PC's flat, bright and (in my opinion) rather uninspiring user interface on their beloved devices?

Could this be a way to thrust the HPC finally into the 21st century. If it is at all possible to do, it would certainly solve the problem that developers & IVHs (Independent Hardware Vendors) are faced with whenever they create a new application aimed at Windows CE devices. Do I sit down and port my code over to the Handheld PC? This point becomes mute.
Windows eMbedded Visual tools and Visual Studio .NET 2003, coupled with the new .net Compact Framework make life for the commercial developer a integrated, unified experience.
For the Enterprise market, the importance of having the same API set at the Pocket PC is less prevalent. The GUI offered by Windows CE 4.2 .net (what we would be familiar with as the HPC GUI) would be the preferred interface for getting tasks done, and most large companies, who the Handheld PC is currently marked towards (For example warehousing and medical institutions). Will have their own developers writing customised applications for the platform. Even in today's standards based XML world, functionality of Windows CE 4.2's Pocket Internet Explorer (the same as is being offered up in Windows Mobile 2003) is there to provide interoperability.

The HPC could still retain its professional and service sector workings, Platform Builder 4.x allows for the development of skin able devices. In an enterprise environment, such as electronic warehousing processes, The necessity of Pocket Outlook for example, is non-existent.
The Handheld PC could exist in two worlds, one for the Industrial devices market, which is where Microsoft obviously sees as the only market for the HPC (we of course know otherwise). Scaled down, rugged; the work horse that we all currently know and love. On the other side, the Professional user and consumer device. A device that allows those who need more from their PDA, the functionality and features offered only by a Handheld PC. A refreshed UI (for good or bad), full pocket office suite, updated Internet Explorer, both sides of the coin supporting the raft of hardware and technical improvements offered by the Windows CE 4.2 core.

As for the OEM, this could truly be a chance at getting the HPC market out there. Yes, there is the inconvenience of having to create a second Platform build for the device. Think of it as a pay off for increased sales volume. All the OEM would need to do is add a check box to the order form.

"Work Horse or Power PDA?"

OEM Operating System Selection Image - Windows Mobile HPC 2003 or CE 4.2 .net

Can the preverbal Carrot on a stick be enough for the HPC end user to think this a viable trade-off for the continued development of the platform?
Well let me hold the stick for a moment:

  • Enhanced Connection Manager user interface
  • Zero Configuration connections
  • Improved animated connectivity status icons
  • Improved connectivity bubbles
  • Always-on Bluetooth discoverability
  • Use of Bluetooth modems
  • Bluetooth beaming
  • Auto-correct spelling
  • Auto-suggest in Inbox
  • One-touch turn all radios off
  • 802.1x support
  • Certificate Management UI
  • IPSec/L2TP
  • Support for Multiple VPNs
  • IPv6 support
  • New Today screen
  • Smart Lookup in Contacts
  • Windows CE 4.2 operating systems
  • .NET Compact Framework
  • Enhanced developer support
  • 128-bit encryption strength for Crypto API
  • Improved power management
  • Windows Media Player 9 Series for Pocket PC 2003
  • Plus! Sync & Go
  • Support for Plus! Photo Story
  • Windows Movie Maker 2
  • Pictures
  • New version of Pocket Internet Explorer
  • "Jawbreaker" game
  • vCard and vCal support
  • Inbox signature support
  • New user notifications

This is what's new for the 2003 release of the Pocket PC form factor devices. Coupled with the enhancements made in Pocket PC 2000 and 2002, most of which the HPC community has lost out on, the potential gain for the average HPC user is vast.

A Vision of the future? Windows Mobile Handheld PC 2003

But once again I have to pose the question

Would the benefits be at too great an expense?

Personally, to be safe in the knowledge that the form factor and community would survive, I think I could adapt.

There undoubtedly will be a case for both sides, there will be the group who hands down rebuff the idea as unpractical, impossible. Likewise the group who are intrigued by the idea and the reprise that it could offer the HPC. Either way, I encourage debate amongst members of the community. who knows, perhaps a OEM is listening.

Chris Tilley
Editor HPC Factor

Want to have you say about Pocket PC 2003 running on the HPC?

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With Thanks to Brighthand & Akihabara News