Reprinted from Byte, December 1994, pp. 27.
The latest entrant in the quest for the killer PDA (personal digital
assistant) is Sony’s Magic Link PIC-1000. It offers a break from traditional
computing and ushers in a new era of mobile communications. This is the first
available device based on General Magic’s Magic Cap operating system and Telescript
communications software. Magic Link ($995) was introduced this fall on the same day
that AT&T publicly activated its PersonaLink Services ($9.95 per month), the first
WAN service designed around intelligent mobile agents (see “The Network with Smarts,”
|Sony Magic Link PIC-1000|
You interact with Magic Link by writing on its touch-sensitive screen using a
plastic stylus. Unlike Apple’s Newton MessagePad, Magic Link doesn’t
use handwriting recognition: If you want to enter text, you tap on the pop-up image
of a keyboard.
Based on tests of the device, the lack of a keyboard isn’t an impediment. This
is because Magic Link is primarily a communications device. Its intended applications
are paging, voice calls, faxing, light E-mail, simple financial work, and on-line
browsing and shopping. The tap-and-drag GUI reduces demand for typing, and the on-screen
pop-up keyboard is effective for entering text.
I found the Magic Cap interface easy to use, and I especially liked its audible
feedback. Magic Cap eliminates conventional computer concepts (e.g., separate files
and applications), substituting an object-oriented model similar to PenPoint or the
Newton operating system. I found the pop-up error messages and information boxes
informative. The combination of Magic Link and PersonaLink’s agents
made E-mail a new experience.
But Magic Link is not without its drawbacks. The device is somewhat underpowered.
Multitasking performance is sluggish, the 2400-bps modem is too slow, and the
non-backlit LCD screen can be hard to read.
Most troublesome is the lack of built-in terminal-emulation or general communications
software. Magic Link is richly endowed with communications features (see the
summary box), but out of the box, it connects only to PersonaLink or America
Online. Sony says third-party providers will offer ASCII terminal-emulation packages
for Magic Link, but for almost $1000, I’d prefer it to be built in.
The missing terminal emulation highlights the conceptual quandary of Magic Link
and Motorola’s Envoy, another Magic Cap device that was introduced earlier
but has not yet been released. These devices target consumers and nontechnical
users, yet they’re priced at a point that’s more acceptable to business
users. To break from the past, the devices sport new user interfaces and
architectures, but they don’t support standard business applications like desktop
software or conventional on-line or WAN services. This makes the purchase decision more
difficult for a mobile executive. Magic Link is the most usable pen-based PDA yet,
though its full value unfolds only when used with PersonaLink. As successful a design
as it is, I still don’t believe it represents the final word in portable communicators.
Magic Link highlights
|Built-in serial and 38.4-Kbps infrared ports (non-IRDA)
|2400-bps data/9600-bps fax send modem
|RJ-11 jack, phone/microphone/speaker
|Optional PCMCIA pager card receives SkyTel pages and forwarded PersonaLink E-mail
|Weighs 1.2 pounds (550 grams)
|Up to 10 hours of battery life
|Six AAA batteries or a rechargeable lithium-ion battery pack
|No handwriting recognition
|16-MHz Motorola “Dragon” 68349 CPU
|4-MB ROM holds built-in PenCell spreadsheet, Pocket Quicken, spelling checker,
PersonaLink, and AOL access software
|1 MB of RAM workspace (expandable to 2 MB with optional PCMCIA SRAM card)