Every Wednesday Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a weekly column about the future of technology, multimedia, and digital entertainment:
When comparisons were initially made between the Apple Newton and the original Palm Pilot, two of the most striking differences were size and input. The new PDA was much smaller than the MessagePads that preceded it. And instead of relying on handwriting recognition that resulted in egg freckles all over the face of Newton, used the Graffiti system that forced a small learning curve on the user in the name of increased accuracy. The Palm Pilot started life as an appliance, but Palm OS would grow to a platform in order to drive new functionality.
However, while its hardware kept improving, the main constraints of its size did not. PDAs remained effective tools for retrieving bits of data on the run as long as they had been synced and poor tools for taking notes for an extended period of time. Taken together, though, several hardware enhancements for Longhorn that Microsoft demonstrated at WinHEC – namely the auxiliary display and the one-pound, 7-inch "ultra-mobile" – may represent a tandem challenge to the besieged handheld even in the tethered domain that they have taken for granted.