When I first got wind late last year of a handheld Windows XP device that also ran Windows Mobile I was excited, to say the least. I jumped at the chance to have a look at the device that promised so much as the first handheld computer with dual operating systems, and I had a great meeting with the DualCor folks at the CES in January of this year. Their whiz-bang device, the cPC, didn’t look like much but what snappy performance and you won’t see anything cooler than switching from Windows XP to Windows Mobile with a single tap of the stylus.
The cPC would have a lot more going for it besides the dual OS configuration, I was told, with 1 GB of RAM, phone capabilities, WiFi and Bluetooth all in the sleek black case. I have seldom been as excited about a device as I was the cPC, based on all the functionality the DualCor folks enthusiastically pitched to me at a meeting in Las Vegas. I jumped at the chance to join the DualCor Board of Expert Technical Advisors (BETA) when invited. Let’s face it, to be in a position to help shape such an innovative product is a rare occurrence and I was happy to contribute. The cPC was due to launch in the first half of 2006 and given all the consumer buzz it was deserving to be named a "Best of Show" finalist at the CES.
It didn’t take long before the wheels began to come off the cart, however. First the rumors started appearing that the cPC would not ship in March as DualCor originally stated. It would be delayed 90 days the company said. Then other rumors were whispered that the cPC would not be sold to consumers as DualCor wanted to concentrate on the enterprise market. This rumor was never confirmed by DualCor but various statements they made at the time implied that was the case. This left a bad taste in consumer’s mouths since DualCor chose to announce the cPC at the Consumer Electronics Show, but I could understand that move as DualCor is a small company after all and they likely needed to concentrate their efforts where they’d have the biggest return. Enthusiasts really started to get ticked off when the company announced the cPC would cost significantly more than the original $1500 that was mentioned at the CES. All of these rumors starting fanning some flames but the final straw that really angered enthusiasts was the admission by DualCor (very late in the game) that the first version of the cPC would not only fail to have phone capabilities as touted on the product web site but would also lack any radios of any kind. Enthusiasts railed against this announcement as it is very unusual for a mobile device to not even have integrated WiFi, much less the Bluetooth and cellular capabilities indicated on the web site. Consumers were especially angry since the very essence of the device as originally pitched had changed dramatically with a lot of capabilities removed, and the price had shot up on top of that. I personally had begun to have misgivings about the device that DualCor would eventually ship, and since I had never heard from DualCor after accepting their invitation to join the BETA, after a few months I resigned from that Board. It didn’t seem to be a real advisory board to me with no contact from the firm.
All of this together still wouldn’t qualify the cPC for my Vaporware of the Year award because until recently I still expected DualCor to actually ship the first version of the device this year. A few months ago they had offered "engineering samples" to some enterprises and gadget bloggers (which they had to pay for) so my hopes were still that they would actually ship a product, even if it didn’t have any radios installed. DualCor obviously realized that those who followed the cPC were upset over the lack of at least integrated WiFi so they included a separate WiFi compact flash card (or USB, I forget) with these engineering samples, which was better than nothing, even if it fell short over earlier claims for the cPC.
I am now ready to award the DualCor cPC my Vaporware of the Year 2006 award after reading an interview that Judie Hughes of Gear Diary recently published with DualCor President Rob Howe. It’s an eye-opening interview for me as Mr. Howe seems to have forgotten the history of the cPC as laid out by DualCor in the past. The following comments I found most enlightening:
Rob never said there would be not be a “version one cPC”. However, the main major processor is already obsolete, and parts availability for version one has become a problem. So the biggest issue at the moment is materials and the resulting prices for the parts used.
Now, unless I’m just confused, something that might be the case here, the first shipping product for any model is version one- I don’t think you can just skip version one and go straight to version two. What Mr. Howe is saying here is that the product has taken so long that the individual components are now obsolete. That’s strange reasoning to me but again, maybe I’m confused.
As it is, the basic cPC design costs too much; it has 3 processors and 2 boards. Another issue is that the thermals have been hard to engineer; it gets hot when running XP. No hotter than a notebook might, but not everyone understands that this is normal.
Umm, we went from shipping in 90 days in January to it’s too expensive and gets too hot. OK, I guess the fact that they haven’t solved all of the problems that are inherent in what makes their device innovative gives me pause. Maybe they can’t ship the cPC as advertised.
Version two will have BT & WiFi, and some way to plug in other wireless protocols. Because of radio frequency issues different radios can’t easily be put inside the “box”, but they can go outside somewhere, say under a sliding screen, without conflict.
Gear Diary: Does this mean that version one will definitely ship “as is”, with no radio installed?
Howe: Bryan Cupps, DualCor founder and CTO, has developed a way to add radios to the first rev. of the cPC. The implementation of that will be determined by the outcome of our decisions on Version 1.0. You can add communications to the cPC today through USB or through the secure digital slot.
So let’s recap, the core components are obsolete and must be switched for newer models; the company is still trying to resolve the heat issues; they will add Bluetooth and WiFi to version two of the cPC, even though they can’t produce a version one for the reasons Mr. Howe mentioned earlier; they can put the radios outside the case of the device but they don’t know exactly where yet; when they finalize their decisions on version 1.0 they will be ready to offer a super-duper version two. That pretty much sums up why I am awarding the DualCor the jkOnTheRun Vaporware of the Year 2006 award for their cPC dual operating system handheld computer. What I can’t get my head around is whether this award should go to version 1.0 or 2.0.