March 23, 2006
 

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Posted: 06.01.05

Driving the Digital Life

A breakthrough product strives to create a new computing category.
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By Tim Bajarin




When the father of the PDA, Jeff Hawkins, first showed me the original Palm Pilot in 1996, I immediately wanted to have what was at that time a breakthrough product. Sure, Apple’s Newton had laid the groundwork for the concept of the PDA, but it was the Palm Pilot that clearly defined what a PDA could and should do and, more importantly, it was small enough to fit into a pocket or purse, thus making it a truly portable and personal digital assistant.

I had that same reaction recently when Ken Wirt of palmOne showed me a new product called the LifeDrive. I wanted to take it with me right then and start using it. I
consider this a breakthrough product that has the potential of creating a completely new category I call “mobile information management.”

The LifeDrive, while still a kind of PDA at heart, is actually a mobile storage system that includes a 4GB hard drive, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and a 320 x 480 color screen. Think of it as a USB thumb drive on steroids with all the functionality of a PDA, music and video player and a wireless e-mail and Internet device. Users can also view documents in Word, PowerPoint and Excel.

While it has all of the virtues of PalmSource’s newest OS, its real magic comes in the form of a palmOne-designed software program called the LifeDrive smart file management system. This innovative software allows a person to drag and drop thousands of files from a PC to their LifeDrive, create specific folders for organizing those files and automatically keep them in sync.

Although people mostly use e-mail and online networks to send files today, USB thumb drives have become a popular way to back-up and share files with others. In fact, I back up my presentations on USB drives all the time, and in many cases when I speak at a conference or event, I just download my presentation from the USB drive onto the laptop at the podium.

But unlike USB drives, which strictly hold a file for back-up or transfer, the palmOne LifeDrive is what has to now be considered a new medium for portable file storage and file management. More importantly, it does not care what type of file you have—it could be a text, music or video file—and because those files are now interpreted by a very smart operating system and application that can manage and playback multi-media formats, the LifeDrive can literally become the heart of your personal digital content management system.

The new 1-inch hard drives that are in products such as Apple’s iPod and other MP3 players are ideal for adding a lot of storage to everything from PDAs to Smartphones. Indeed, I expect to see 1-inch drives in these types of devices by the end of the year. But palmOne decided to take the major step of wrapping a whole new device and concept around a PDA and created an innovative portable file management system that could really enhance the way people organize and carry their rich files with them wherever they go.

palmOne purposely did not include cell phone functionality, since it was really aiming at creating a new breed of PDA, with this enhanced file management software as its differentiator. However, I would love to have that same hard drive and file management software in my Treo 650 someday, and I suspect it will only be a matter of time before these features and functions are integrated into the next generation of palmOne’s smartphone line.
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