Ever since the advent of the desktop computer, entrepreneurs have dreamed of being able to take all their information on the road.
Oh, sure, someone came up with the idea of a laptop, a slightly smaller version of what was sitting back in the office, but early models were so unwieldy, it would have been easier to simply transport the desktop PC to the clients office.
The newest notebooks, although powerful and sleek, bring with them disadvantages. The size still demands a specially padded carrying case, adding one more piece of luggage to the carry-on pile that has to be lugged through airports and crowded commuter flights. Clients can frown upon their use, because it always seems as if youre either hiding something behind that screen, or worse, not paying attention to what theyre saying because youre trying to find a particular file.
So the Personal Digital Assistant came on the scene to fill this niche. The idea was to provide businesspeople with only the basic necessities of computer use in a small package that wouldnt be any more intimidating than a day-planner.
They are really being used now as complements to PCs, says Tom Rhinelander, an analyst with Forrester, a Cambridge, Mass.-based technology research firm. It allows the users to take information with them at all times.
While early PDAs contained little more than electronic calendars, address books and some basic memo capabilities, the new generation of devices carries many of the same capabilities as their desktop counterparts.
Software programmers are designing solutions that allow ease of use and the quick transfer of information. It is now possible to have the specs on your latest product along with sales statistics and production costs that were input on your PC, to be downloaded into your PDA for easy access during meetings.
One program is now able to scrape headlines or stories from say, your industry trade magazine Website, and then transfer that to your PDA so you can read it on the road, says Rhinelander.
Of course you cannot do a PowerPoint presentation like you could on a newer notebook computer, but you cant put the notebook in your coat pocket either.
Most of the units operate on two AA batteries, yielding as much of 20 hours of operating time. Rechargeable batteries are also available with most brands, with operating limits of 12 hours to 15 hours of use, depending on the type of work being done.
Most also feature an instant on, meaning there is no long boot-up time. You simply turn it on just like you would a calculator, and its ready to go.
PDAs are not meant to be stand-alone units, but rather mobile partners to a desktop system. Synchronization of information is done either through direct connection to the PC or the use of a docking cradle.
Two ways of thinking
There are basically two major operating platforms in the PDA market:
Windows CE, which is basically a scaled-down version of Windows 95 that makes the PDA more like a notebook.
Palm OS, the operating system of the popular PalmPilot PDA, which acts more like a personal organizer with notebooklike software available as add-ons.
The value of these devices hasnt really been tapped yet, notes Rhinelander. Users want the synchronization between the devices and the PC to be a simple point and click, and thats what were seeing. Its not hard for companies to hook into this technology. Explore it and figure out where you can go with it.
Technology with a twist
When the Apple Newton hit the market, one of its featured attributes was the ability to recognize handwriting. But like any venture that relies on a machine to interpret human intentions, the results can be bizarre. Here are a few misspellings by the Newton culled from the Newton Misspellings Page at: www.HTCSI.isc.rit.edu/newton
- Phrase entered: Newtons translation
- Pizza Hut: Berger Fort
- the Kramers got robbed last night: the Dinosaurs here rolled last night
- I love you all: I hate your balls
- application: AeroMexico
- wedding: head sting
- Write Beth a check (Beth is ex-wife): Write Bum a check
- Microsoft: monopoly
- more convenient: mice overhaul
- In the summer, Im a lazy bum: In the sunny, Im a Jazz burn
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