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Technological Elegy

June 8, 2010

Tapwave Zodiac

The first piece of technology that I truly loved was the Tapwave Zodiac.

It was my first PDA and it was mine. It wasn’t a mainstream device, so for me, finding out about it, and then researching it — loving everything I read about it — was like discovering something hidden and beautiful. I bought it fully aware of the doubts about the platform…but also aware of the exuberance about the platform. The Tapwave Zodiac ran Palm OS, and even back then, I think Palm was in trouble…however, if you know what Palm OS looks like, you will notice that the Zodiac’s interface looks quite a bit different, with the wheel and spokes.

It was new and innovative. I thought new and innovative could bear life.

I took my Zodiac everywhere. I took it to school, and I kept track of all my assignments and grades in some program. I kept a calendar. I was so efficient.

My teachers hated that thing. Cell phones were technically prohibited. But the Zodiac was no cell phone!

I remember getting an app for it that somewhat mimicked a Theremin. Now, obviously, it didn’t mimic the “Look~ no hands!” actuality of a real theremin, but by going along the screen, I could feel out notes and volume. Every so often, I’d play a little ditty in response to whatever my teachers were saying. I suppose they were justified in hating that thing.

The Zodiac had promise. It was marketed as a bit of a gaming device, and so Tapwave advertised early on its partnerships with certain game developers and the few games that it had. And if you look at the design, it’s markedly different from most PDAs in that its form pays homage to game controllers or portable game systems more than the traditional PDA.

I never did much of the official gaming, but one thing I was extremely interested in was the homebrew community and emulation. People — on their own — developed or ported over programs that could emulate the consoles of past days — NESes, etc, And to be sure, there were other devices that were advertised as being better for emulators and gamers, but I was with Tapwave and the Zodiac.

Living in the Tapwave world was not all sunshine and daisies. There were always detractors and naysayers, even in the forums. People who talked about how they hated their Zodiac, wished they had gone with a different device. People who doubted Tapwave’s claims and promises to deliver certain features.

I was never a total fanboy. Throughout my research, I always paid careful attention to the criticism. I weighed it against the positives, and decided that even if everything that was said was true, this was something I could live with. I made sure to buy only when I could say that I wasn’t buying it because of expectations about the future. So when those expectations didn’t actualize, I didn’t feel too let down.

One day, I dropped my Zodiac. When I had picked it up, a spider was weaving a web across the glass. The device seemed to want to stay out of the spider’s way, so at the epicenter of the cracked glass was a mass of purple. Dead pixels.

I tried what I could to make the screen work properly again — disregarding the broken glass…but nothing changed the mass of stuck screen. In fact, as the web spread, the unusable tumor of screen spread as well.

I didn’t want to get it replaced or fixed. I thought that would simply be too cost ineffective.

Sooner or later, I lost even the choice. Tapwave sent out some update to its site notifying all of us (or any of us who regularly checked the website) that it was going out of business. There would be no explanation. There would be no further news.

It’s easy for me to see how ghost towns have developed. I imagine that while the naysayers migrated first, smug that their prophecies had come to fruition, the town would become more loyal — or more desperate — in the culling. The people who stayed had hope that something new and good would happen. Maybe someone would find a new deposit for gold?

And so happened to the forums.

When I got my Palm Pre, I felt many of the same things, did many of the same things. I devoured information about the Pre and its community, and compared and contrasted it with what I saw elsewhere. I duly noted the criticisms, the potential pitfalls, but I owned these pitfalls. I noted the rising doubts as sales figures for Palm failed to meet expectations. As the webOS community was slapped in the face by DataViz and DocsToGo was announced to be “on hold.” As that living breathing Palm hemorrhaged, but could not staunch its expenses or introduce fresh revenue.

I’ve noted the webOS community sew together its own tourniquets in a monumental homebrew efforts. But I’ve also seen that community’s creeping anxiety over whether even these can give Palm enough time to find its way.

I cannot help but feel deja vu these days.

Fortunately, Palm still exists. It is being bought by HP, and while HP is sending out alarmingly mixed signals about the future of Palm smartphones (they seem much more concerned about printers), that is one difference. Nevertheless, I hear what people say in the message boards. I hear what they tweet.

Even if we do move on to other platforms…other phones…we cannot unlive webOS.

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One Comment
  1. i like it, it is useful.

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