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Throwing away the Palm stylus.

Those who are devoted to their PDAs heap praise on the gadget’s ability to store and organize information, and how its sleek styling looks oh-so-chic on a table at the local coffeehouse. But you don’t often hear people rave about how much they love using a stylus to punch in information. Geoffrey Thompson, founder of Plymouth-based Avaion, got so tired of the faux-pencils that he developed software that does away them altogether for Palm users. He talks about technology, graffiti, and the lack of need for scraps of paper.

What made you want to found Avaion?

Handhelds are no longer simply peripheral devices to desktop or laptop computers; they are coming into their own as a viable stand-alone computing platform. As a consultant to pharmaceutical and brokerage corporations, I have been developing mobile solutions that incorporate Internet and handheld technologies for many years. I started Avaion out of a desire to leverage my experience to develop useful mobile technology for larger markets, rather than just single clients.

How did the idea for FatFinger get sparked?

One of the most significant challenges I found while developing mobile solutions for large corporations was that field personnel have even less time and patience to learn and to use new technology than do users of more traditional systems. They want technology to work the way they do, not the other way around.

The Palm has always been a great device for looking up information, but less than ideal when you need to enter new information while on the go. Graffiti can be tedious to learn, and slow and error-prone to use. As an example, have you ever pulled out the stylus and tried to enter someone’s phone number while they give it to you over the phone? Most people, including me, resorted to writing things on scraps of paper and waiting until later to enter them in–unless, of course, you lost the scrap of paper. FatFinger came from these individual and professional experiences, and is all about making it easier to get “stuff” into your Palm when you are on the go.

There are so many handhelds coming out now–are you ever worried about tying your product just to the Palm OS?

This was an intentional decision, as the Palm OS platform still leads the market in the PDA space. So, we developed FatFinger specifically with the large number of Palm owners in mind. We wanted to offer something that would extend the life of their existing device, as opposed to expecting them to spend money for add-on hardware or newer handhelds with thumb-based, built-in keyboards. Lastly, we developed all of the FatFinger software in a low-level, cross-platform language, and built it in a way that will allow us to leverage much of the code base for other platforms.

What makes you happy to go to work every day?

I love the creative and technical demands of developing software. It is very rewarding to see a problem and then design, develop and offer a solution to that problem. I love that a small program like FatFinger is so well received, and used by people as far away as Italy and the Czech Republic. And lastly, I love the diverse challenges and responsibilities in a small company like Avaion. Around here, no one is too big to dive into code, or too small to have an opinion about some aspect of the business. Lots of hats, lots of variety, lots of fun.

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