Oh, the Places You'll Go!

High-Tech Watches & Laptops

While pockets, briefcases, laptops and carry-ons have been comprehensively invaded by mobile information technology, the wrists of mobile entrepreneurs have so far been left vacant. No longer. Architects of miniature electronics are staking out that real estate as a place for tiny schedule- and contact-keepers, and even bulk information storage and transport devices.

Fossil Inc., the Richardson, Texas-based fashion watchmaker, is the unlikely pioneer of wrist-based Palm devices with its $275 Sport Wrist PDA. Running version 4.1 of the Palm OS in a package about twice the size of a normal digital watch, the Wrist PDA tracks contacts and stores appointments and to-dos in 2MB of memory.

Users can jot memos into the 160-by-160-pixel screen using a tiny stylus, much like a full-size Palm handheld. It communicates with other Wrist PDAs or larger handhelds via an infrared port. It also tells time, allowing wearers to select from a variety of analog or digital clock displays.

Several European manufacturers have begun selling watches that incorporate portable USB memory storage. The watches work like the popular key chain-style memory devices. You plug into any computer's USB port, using a short USB cable that dangles from the watch. Then you can use the watch as if it were a disk drive-handy for transporting large files and documents.

The Laks USB Memory watch from Austria comes with 32MB to 256MB of memory and costs $42 to $149. London-based Memixdirect.com sells a 128MB USB MeMIX Memory Watch, which has the USB cable incorporated into the wristband, for about $110.

Fossil is one of a handful of watchmakers to have announced a still more advanced wrist gadget-developed with Microsoft-that will receive personalized data from the Web, such as news, weather, stock quotes and IMs, via a radio broadcast signal. It will be one of the first devices using Microsoft's Smart Personal Objects Technology (SPOT). Fossil has promised a fall 2003 release but hasn't released specific price or ship dates for its SPOT watch, called the Wrist MSN Direct Watch.

Laptops and Notebooks
This year, sales of personal computers will reverse the negative growth trend of 2002-but only because sales of portable laptop and notebook computers are growing strongly while desktop sales stagnate, according to Gartner. The lopsided growth in laptop sales has spurred manufacturers to focus marketing and technology resources on the sector, resulting in a surge of powerful, imaginatively configured and attractively priced models. Today, there's a laptop for every taste-from tiny ultraportables and the familiar 6-pound thin-and-lights to relatively hefty luggables that have just about every feature you can find on a desktop PC.

What to Buy and Why
Check out the latest laptops here.

One of the most striking trends has been how quickly wireless networking has become a standard feature of portables of every size. A year ago, 1 in 4 notebooks had some kind of wireless networking. Today, 3 out of 4 do-usually, the 802.11b Wi-Fi flavor used in Intel's Centrino mobile chip package, capable of wireless data transfers as fast as 11Mbps.

When it comes to ultraportables, or ultralights-the less than 4-pound category with the most appeal for executives and other frequent fliers-there's a host of new entries from leading vendors. Toshiba, which virtually invented the category, has an interesting new Centrino ultraportable, the Portégé R100, that's less than an inch thick and a feather-light 2.4 pounds. You can get a 1GHz Low Voltage Pentium M processor and 256MB of fast main memory (expandable to 1GB) for $2,299.

The new HP Compaq Notebook nc4000 ultraportable is a bit thicker, at 1.1 inches, and a little heavier, at 3.5 pounds. It's equipped not only with the ubiquitous .11b Wi-Fi flavor, but also with 54Mbps .11a wireless networking with an easy software upgrade for the .11g Wi-Fi type as well. Offering a little more oomph than the Portégé, you can get an nc4000 with a 1.4GHz Pentium processor and 256MB of memory for $1,650.

Dell's new Latitude X300 is another ultralight with a popular brand name that combines a variety of wireless networking options with extreme portability. The 2.9-pound X300 comes standard with 802.11b/g networking and an inexpensive option for .11a. You can get an X300 that's less than an inch thick with a 1.2GHz Low Voltage Pentium M and 256MB of memory for $1,450.

Same-size tablet PCs, which were introduced with much fanfare a year ago and use the same processors as ultralights, have yet to catch on.

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This article was originally published in the November 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Oh, the Places You'll Go!.

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