Mobile device early adopters- overcoming limits

u70_021e800Innovative mobile devices are released all the time and there’s a typical type of power user that becomes the early adopter. The drive to have the “latest and greatest” is the driving force that pushes this type of user to try and incorporate the new mobile tool into their daily work routine. This early adoption usually comes at a price as the software for these devices usually runs a bit behind the hardware technology, and the first owners of these devices have to come up with workarounds for all sorts of shortcomings.

I had the good fortune to be involved in such a group, as I was one of the early owners of a Toshiba e800 Windows Mobile device. The first Pocket PC with a true VGA screen, the e800 wasn’t without it’s shortcomings as released by Toshiba. Since the operating system, WM2003, didn’t provide any support for VGA displays, Toshiba released the device with the VGA mode locked. Only a few document viewing programs would actually work in VGA mode, and the system software Toshiba provided prevented any attempt to do anything else in VGA resolution. I can’t fault Toshiba for this (although many people did) because to do anything else would have resulted in a support nightmare for Toshiba. But early adopters are usually the innovators when it comes to making the most of mobile technology and most of the time won’t take no for an answer. It didn’t take these super users long to unlock the Toshiba e800 in all it’s VGA glory.A number of hacks appeared shortly after the e800 hit store shelves that began the journey to unlock the full potential of this ground-breaking device. The now famous developer deez appeared almost immediately on the scene with the great utility ResFix. ResFix was rather simple in the function it provided, eliminating the locks in the system that Toshiba incorporated, and letting users run any program in full VGA resolution. It also added the ability to switch between the normal screen resolution of a Pocket PC (QVGA) and VGA. Other alternatives to ResFix soon followed with MyVGA probably the most famous. MyVGA, which took the functions of ResFix a little bit farther, was written by hugbug, a programmer in the EU, and released as open source. You can really tell the influence of the online community in this development of “hacks” when names like deez and hugbug become household names, at least in these circles. MyVGA added the ability to switch the Toshiba into a landscape orientation of the screen, making it easier to do things like surf the web and work in documents. It’s safe to say that these and the other hacks written by users for the Toshiba e800 made it the popular machine that it is today. It was a real joy to be involved in that process and I can tell you few things can give you the satisfaction to help in opening up the capabilities of cutting edge technology.Most of you are aware I recently had the good fortune to get my hands on a Sony U-70, a handheld Windows XP “laptop”. The Sony was the first such device to hit the market but was only released for sale in Japan. Importers quickly made the U-70 and it’s little brother the U-50 available for purchase outside Japan and early adopters saw the potential of these machines immediately. The devices are shipped from Japan with a Japanese version of Windows XP installed (naturally) and while the importers do a lot of conversion of the OS to English there are still a lot of settings and programs in Japanese when delivered to the customer. But early adopters don’t care about that, instead looking at a challenge instead of a problem. Resourceful owners quickly started “hacking” the registry and Sony Japanese only programs and gradually the devices started looking more and more like native English tools. From converting the Sony Notebook Setup program to allowing any text entry program to be invoked by a simple button press (instead of the Sony included program), these users have taken a totally foreign device and converted it to a pure English one. It’s been cool to watch this process and be in the middle of it from a user’s perspective.The form factor of the Sony makes it a natural for the Tablet PC extensions to Windows XP and it didn’t take long for a path to achieve that goal was paved by an enterprising group of early adopters. From installing the OS to providing access to the floating Text Input Panel (TIP), this group of super users working together has provided a 100% conversion of the Sony to a fully functioning Tablet PC. Forget that the Sony has a passive digitizer for pen entry and that some utilities of the Tablet PC require an active digitizer by design. All obstacles have been overcome in the conversion and the resultant handheld PC is simply delightful to use.I salute everyone involved in this process and hope you realize your efforts are very appreciated by all U-50 / 70 owners everywhere. Why do they do it? Not just because they can, which is probably part of it, but rather they are looking to create the right tool for the job at hand. And in this case, just as with the Toshiba e800, they have succeeded and the results speak for themselves.

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