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Randy Battat on PDAs

Sunday, October 16, 1994 by Dave Winer.

Good morning!

Randy Battat, Motorola's executive in charge of mobile computing, has comments on my How to invest in PDAs piece. It's Randy's piece, if you have comments, please send them to battat@wes.mot.com. I wouldn't mind if you cc'd me on them at dwiner@well.com.


Dave et. al,

I fear that the first premise, that PDAs are peripherals to PCs, is a bit short-sighted.

True, today's PDA's haven't been successful, but I think that some in this space eventually will be. PCs simply can't scale to be very small, personal devices that people will want to carry on their person all the time. Therefore, there's room for a new class of device -- hence the PDA.

But thinking of PDAs as PC peripherals is the same as thinking of PCs as minicomputer peripherals. Yes, PCs were used in this way in the early days. But that context hid a much deeper understanding of the role of the PC, and its social, economic, educational, scientific, etc. implications.

Today's PDAs are like the Altair's and Commodore Pet's and Tandy TRS-80's of 15 years ago. These early PCs were very different than the Macs and Windows machines we take for granted today (or in '95 for the latter!). I would argue that the Newtons and MagicLinks of today will scarcely resemble that which they inspire in the years to come.

And, just as PCs were very different in every way from their minicomputer predecessors -- shrink-wrapped vs. custom software, retail vs. direct distribution, 20% gross margins vs. 70% gross margins -- thinking of PDAs in PC metrics will cloud our view of what may really transpire.

Not that I'm a PDA biggot. I see myself using PCs for some things and PDAs for others. The current crop of PDAs are exciting but barely usable. But AppleWriter and VisiCalc and SilentType printers were similarly "unfinished" in their day.

Give it time. Keep the short term expectations tempered. But don't be constrained by the artifacts of the day.

- Randy


Thanks for the comments, Randy!

As always, if you aren't interested in this kind of stuff, send me email and I'll happily delete your name from the list. And it's OK to forward this email anywhere you like.

Dave Winer

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