In 1993, Jon-Erik Prichard was working as the creative director for an ad agency that worked with telecommunications companies. One of the main thrusts in the industry at the time was wireless communications. Then one day, "It all just came to me," says Prichard, 38. He realized combining wireless technology with speech and handwriting recognition software would result in a truly mobile computer with user-friendly communications features. People could use this computer any time, anywhere without bothering to hook up to a modem or a networking cable, even forfeiting the need for a keyboard or a mouse.
In November 1999, Prichard introduced his Qbe Personal Computing Tablet, a product that Prichard says his company, Aqcess Technologies Inc., "can't make fast enough to meet demand." The company is now shipping 5,000 units per month.
At 14-by-10-by-1.6 inches, the Qbe is sleek, snappy and just slightly larger than a tablet of paper. The entire device is a full-sized screen that has speech and handwriting software, a stylus for moving the cursor (or writing) on-screen and even a digital camera with video-conferencing and still-photo capabilities. It requires no keyboard, no wires and no mouse (though all three are available for people wanting to work at a desk in a traditional office setting).
Prichard began by selling a business version that was in the $4,000 range. The market responding fastest to the Qbe has been real estate, where employees are always on the road and frequently need to convey visual images to customers. A consumer version at a lower cost is expected to be released late this year and will be priced under $2,000. This new device will allow consumers to do everything from read a downloaded book in bed to comparison shop on the Net while browsing at the mall.
Of course, most of us can see the benefits of the Qbe immediately, which is why the product appears to be a runaway success in today's market. But to get the product out in 2000, Prichard had to commit to the idea in 1995...before the Internet was popular, before Palm Pilots were on the market, even before the first effective speech and handwriting software had been developed. Almost everyone thought he was insane. In fact, most people didn't believe many of the future technologies Prichard was counting on would ever exist. But Prichard made that transition from potential kook to bona fide genius by being right on target with his big vision.