Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba said this week that they are phasing out the 200LX palmtop PC and Libretto mini-notebook, respectively. They will be replaced by newer, faster, and better-looking systems, the companies say.
The demise is part market forces, part changing technology.
Many of today's handheld computers are miracles of industrial design, often featuring large color displays and near notebook-size keyboards. But it wasn't always that way. Early versions of these mid-size handhelds often sacrificed function for weight, sometimes resulting in awkward devices that were difficult to use.
Hastening their demise is are plummeting component prices. As a result, former luxuries such as large screens are increasingly becoming standard.
Designing any portable device is fraught with potential stumbling blocks: It is no easy feat to cram most of the components of a full-featured notebook computer into a device half its size without sacrificing function. Moreover, it is difficult to predict which design will catch on with consumers.
Franklin's credit-card size Rex device has failed to live up to the hype surrounding its release, and the company has said it is considering discontinuing the product. Palm Computing's PalmPilot, on the other hand, has struck a consumer nerve and soared in popularity.
Adapting to the latest version of an operating systems also takes its toll. As Microsoft has upgraded Windows CE--the company's stripped-down system for handhelds, TV set-top boxes, and other devices--to support larger and higher-quality displays, the original versions of "clamshell" portable computers have suffered from lackluster sales.
Products released last year, for example, offering large color displays and keyboards resembling those of notebook computers, have outsold these earlier devices, analysts say.
"What we try to do is take the technology that is available at the time and build the best possible ultra-portable that we can," said Mike Stinson, vice president of product marketing for Toshiba, which will begin phasing out the Libretto this fall. "We feel like the Libretto was very successful."
Instead of the Libretto, Toshiba will tout its Portege system, which is more often used as a full "desktop replacement" system than the Libretto, Stinson said. Toshiba customers prefer the 3-pound Portege, with its larger display and touch-typable keyboard, to the 2-pound Libretto, he said.
As for HP, although it will continue to market "clamshell" or mid-size portable computers, they will now only run on Windows CE, rather than other operating systems. "That's why they're phasing it out," said Jill House, an analyst at International Data Corporation.
HP will phase out the 200LX palm-size PC beginning November 1, about two years after it was introduced.