Monday, April 1, 2002

Movies for your low-cost Palm handheld


By Vince Lee

Movies on a Palm handheld? A few years ago, most people wouldn't have thought it even possible, but the flurry of product releases in the past years have shown that it can not only be done, but it's a hotbed of activity and the newest "cool" thing. At the PalmSource 2000 developer's conference in Santa Clara, no fewer than four companies were exhibiting some form of movie playback technology. Curiously, their booths were all located in close proximity to each other, apparently by pure coincidence.

What's it good for?

Sure, playing a small video clip on the Palm handheld makes for a really great demo, but what's it really good for? If you talk to some of the companies working on the technology, they often talk about its use in corporate training, scientific visualization, and education. While this type of copy has probably helped make handheld video the current darling of some hi-tech investors, is the ability to view a video clip on a handheld compelling enough to have a real, practical use?

At the very least, movies on a Palm computer have undeniable "wow" power. And perhaps herein lies its greatest potential. Whenever I start to play a video clip on my Palm handheld, it's amazing to watch people gather around in wonder and disbelief. "I didn't know a Palm handheld could do that," is what they almost always say. And if they have Palm units themselves, they inevitably follow with "Hey, can you beam that to me?"

This kind of excitement opens up the possibility for creating a whole new channel for content distribution, where worthwhile mini-movies and clips are enthusiastically shown, copied, and traded between Palm handheld owners. From a commercial point of view, this suggests that a standard should be supported by Sony, Handspring, TRG [now HandEra], and Palm itself. Imagine watching a full-length movie loaded onto a 1 gigabyte micro drive plugged into a TRGpro [and now, in 2002, you can put huge movies on an SD card and plug them into almost any modern Palm-branded handheld]. You could board a plane carrying a whole film library in a single pocket.