I don’t know the actual introduction date for the first Windows CE devices. But, I always considered their launch at Fall Comdex 1996 to be their public introduction. The original devices were pretty spartan by even my 1996 standards. So, I waited until early 1997 to buy my first Windows CE device: An HP 320LX Handheld PC. It was a step up from HP’x 300LX. The 320LX had 4MB RAM (compared to the 300LX’s 2MB), a backlit screen, and a CompactFlash slot as well as a PC Card slot. Unlike other Handheld PC, it also had a 640×240 grayscale (greenscale) screen. It was a great device and as you can see from the photos here, it still works! HP engineers really built stuff to last back then (I have a few choice words about the iPAQ line HP inherited from their Compaq merger in some other blog entry). I just stuck in a fresh pair of AA batteries and the HP 320LX fired up. Even the backlight still works fine.
Microsoft’s manufacturing partners experimented with all kinds of Handheld PC form factors before the HPC bit the product life dust in 2000 (or thereabouts). You can see the Compaq Aero 8000 Handheld PC behemoth in the second photo. Yep, this monster is a Handheld PC too. It has a 800×600 color screen, built in modem, and a bunch of other interesting features. But, alas the instant-on notebook sized device concept never caught on. The Aero 8000 also suffered from a pitiful battery life. I recall not being able to get much more than an hour of use under battery power. The T-Mobile SDA phone in the photo is just there to help you get a feel of the size of the devices.
Although the Handheld PC platform rode off into the sunset, a good idea never truly dies. We can see that current day Pocket PC Phone Edition devices like the JasJar, K-JAM (both pictured here), and host of QWERTY keyboard enabled Pocket PCs and Smartphones owe a great deal to the original Handheld PC design.
I have to mention the first non-Microsoft Windows CE web site I found before signing off on this blog item: Craig Peacocks Windows CE Pages. I believe he created the site shortly after seeing the first Handheld PCs at Fall Comdex 1996. I didn’t attend that Comdex. But, I did go to Fall Comdex 1997 and was able to sync up with Craig in person. Craig’s work inspired me to get involved in getting a deeper working understanding of Windows CE and I ended up creating and then managing the MSN Computing Central Windows CE Forum for a number of years. Craig went on to much bigger and better things than I and is currently a key player in the Microsoft Windows Mobile product team!
So, happy 10th anniversary Microsoft Windows Mobile! It will be a blast to see what happens in the next 10 years.