Computer Systems Laboratory Colloquium

4:15PM, Wednesday, April 1, 1998
NEC Auditorium, Gates Computer Science Building B03

What Do You Want to Wear Today?

Philippe Kahn
Starfish Software
About the talk:

What if you could wear your information? What if you could move through your whole day without having to think about bringing your information, your handheld or laptop computer with you? What if you could have it all, anywhere, anytime?

You wake up and start your day, get in the shower, and ask yourself: "Where do I want to go today?" It isn't just advertising hype. It's probably the right thing to do. Then you pour yourself a cup of coffee, 100% Java or not.

Then you ask yourself the all-important question: "What do I want to wear today?"

You're not really thinking about that laptop or that handheld computer that you'll carry with you all day. You're thinking about your shoes, your belt, your shirt or blouse, your pants. Once you've decided what to wear, for the rest of the day, you'll rarely think about what you're wearing again. You simply wear your clothes.

You're dressed for success. You can focus on getting things done. Now, it's time to think about the digital tools that you will need throughout your day. What will you be taking with you? Is it the 7.4-pound power laptop, the 4-pound sub notebook, or the 5-ounce pen-based handheld? Chances are that whichever choice you make, you'll have to lug it with you all day, it will feel heavier and heavier with every hour that passes, pack it in and out of your briefcase, and not lose it! This is portable technology. It sure isn't wearable, but it's a step in the right direction.

In prior columns, I discussed (the concept of what Starfish terms) Connected Information Devices. They are small devices such as pagers, smart phones or REX cards that can synchronize important information such as address books and calendars and give you access to this important information anywhere, anytime.

But what does wearable mean? A wearable device is one that you put on in the morning and it's always with you. No need to think about it further. Just like a pager or cellular phone clipped onto your belt.. Wearable Connected Information Devices are small, sturdy and can synchronize in a timely manner with information that is important to you. You also never want to worry about the state of your batteries during the day.

Like a small pager or a StarTac™ cellular phone, you want to be able to operate them with one hand, while your other hand is free to do something else. You really shouldn't try to operate any of these devices while driving!

Is this a completely new concept? Yes and No. Remember Maxwell Smart from the television series "Get Smart?" Remember his shoephone? We all have seen numerous James Bond movies. Then there is Dick Tracy and his famous watch. So the concept of Wearable Connected Information Devices is not completely new.

What is new is that wearable technology is now available for you and I to purchase at very reasonable prices and allows synchronization and connectivity to our information. Like a StarTac phone or a REX card.

That technology is generally not extrapolated from conventional computer-based technology. That is because of form factor and battery life requirements. In fact, the kind of technology that is really useful here is more attune to watch class technology than to conventional PC technology.

Let's take a look back at the history of personal computers. With the first PC, the Micral, released in 1973, there was a radical shift in form factors. Before the Micral, we had Mainframe computers. The Altair, Apple 2 and the IBM PC followed the Micral later. It is interesting to note that the form factors of desktop computers haven't really changed much since 1973. There is more computing power and storage capacity. However, most of that computing power and storage capacity is actually used to provide for a more intuitive user interface as well as multimedia capability.

The first truly transportable computer appeared in 1981, it was the Osborne 1. It was soon to be followed by the Compaq. These machines were basically oscilloscope cases retrofitted to house a complete personal computer. They needed AC to function. A few years later, around 1984, the first Clamshell device appeared. It was the Data General One. Most laptops today are derived from that original design with much improvement. They weigh 3.5 to 7.5 pounds.

To achieve more portability several companies designed handheld computers. Over the years, the Tandy 100, the HP 100 LX, the Psion and many others have had some measure of success. Pen-based devices appeared and disappeared and will probably start reappearing again. In that category, the Newton in particular broke new ground for ease of use. But synchronization was essentially absent, a retail price that was much too high and a form factor that was too big. In 1995, the PalmPilot was introduced and became the most successful pen-based handheld device and demonstrated that there is a real market for small portable devices that easily synchronize with personal computers.

In October 1997, REX was introduced by Rolodex/Franklin after more than three years of development by Starfish. The form factor shift is radical: REX is ultra thin, the size of a credit card and weighs only 1.4 Ounces. It has 6 months of battery life, and synchronizes directly through the PC Card slot. REX has sold as many units in its first three months as PalmPilot sold in its first six months.

REX is the first truly Wearable Connected Information Device. You wear it just like you carry your credit cards. Pull it out when you need it. Synchronize it when you get close to your PC. The conceptual model is familiar, simple and efficient, while the device itself is completely non-obtrusive. You can put it in your shirt pocket in the morning and forget about it all day long.

What is in store for Wearable Connected Information Devices? Of course there is the entire wireless world, the world of specialized medical wearable devices and many other developments that we will soon be discussing. Unfortunately, because writing this column is only a secondary occupation and that my primary occupation is to work with our device development teams and our partners on next generation devices, I obviously can't divulge all of our plans now. But rest assured that in the next few years you'll see many innovative Wearable Connected Information Devices.

I would like to make two predictions:

Prediction #1: Within the next 5 years most of us will make use of several Wearable Connected Information Devices that all synchronize with the same information and work synergistically.

Prediction #2: By the year 2002, the unit sales of Wearable Connected Information Devices will surpass the unit sales of personal computers.

About the speaker:

Philippe Kahn, CEO and Chairman (

Philippe Kahn founded Starfish in 1994 with Sonia Lee to develop the TrueSync technology platform for the Connected Information Device industry. In addition to his responsibilities at Starfish, Philippe champions freedom of speech, open standards, innovation and spirited competition. BYTE Magazine names Philippe as one of the Top 20 Most Important People in the history of the computer industry.

A French-born mathematician, Philippe's graduate and post-graduate work was in pure mathematics. In the 1970s, he worked in Zurich, Switzerland under Niklaus Wirth on Pascal, the computer programming language. Contrary to conventional belief, The Computer Museum ( ) now recognizes the Micral as the first personal computer available outside a build-it-yourself kit. This Intel-based machine was developed in France by Andre Truong. Philippe was one of the first key programmers for this system which preceded the Altair by more than one year.

After moving to the United States in 1982, Philippe founded Borland International. Under his direction, and without venture capital funding, Borland grew from a start-up to one of the leading suppliers of professional software development tools with several thousand employees worldwide and $500 Million in revenues. While at Borland, he spearheaded the object-computing revolution and the move to component-based software, changing software development methodologies forever.

Anticipating the emergence of wireless and wireline devices as well as the fact that the Internet would cause the personal computer to quickly evolve from a document creation and data computation tool to a wide area communications tool, Philippe left Borland in early 1994 to create Starfish with Sonia Lee.

After several years developing the TrueSync technology platform, Starfish is now the leading supplier of wearable technology components for the Connected Information Device Industry. In August 1997, Starfish introduced Rex, the first wearable Connected Information Device. Key partners and customers of Starfish include companies such as Motorola, Rolodex Electronics, General Magic and others.

Besides working with the teams at Starfish, Philippe spends his time with his four children, Laura, Estelle, Samuel and Sophie, with whom he loves to practice his favorite hobbies: jazz, martial arts, Siberian huskies, dirt biking, snowboarding and skiing.

Contact information:

Philippe Kahn
Starfish Software
1700 Green Hills Road
Scotts Valley CA 95066
(408) 461-5800