The PDA: Not A NoteBook PC Substitute...For Now

By: Steve Bralovich

Personal digital assistants (PDAs) are hand-held microcomputers, but have become much more than that over the years. PDAs are also known as pocket pc's or palmtop computers. PDAs have numerous uses including: calculating, use as a timer and time piece with calendar functions, surfing the Internet, sending and receiving electronic mail, video recording, typing and word processing, address book uses, making and composing spreadsheets, bar code scanning, use as a radio receiver or stereo, playing video games, entering survey results, and Global Positioning System (GPS). More recent PDAs also have color screens and complete audio and telephony features, allowing them to be employed as mobile phones (smartphones), Internet browsers, and portable media players. Many now also include cameras that can snap photos which can then be automatically uploaded to Flickr and mySpace accounts. Most newer PDAs can access the Internet, intranets or extranets via Wi-Fi, or Wireless Wide-Area Networks (WWANs). Almost all PDA's employ touch screen technology except for Smartphones which rely on menu driven systems due to their smaller display screens.

PDA's Past

The term "personal data assistant" was first used on Jan 7th, 1992 by then Apple Computer Chief Executive Officer John Sculley at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Nevada, concerning the Apple Newton.

PDAs are occasionally denoted as "Palms", "Palm Pilots" or "Palm Tops" so-named after an early personal digital assistant produced by USR and Palm Inc called the "Palm Pilot".

Today however, the term is much more encompassing and includes a very diverse range of products developed by a host of many manufacturers including HP, Dell, Blackberry and Sharp to name a few.

.Characteristic capabilities

Presently, a regular PDA has a touch screen for data entry, a memory card slot for data storage and at the least one of the following for device-todevice communication: IrDA, Bluetooth and/or WiFi. Even so, many personal digital assistants (commonly those used chiefly as cell phones) may not possess a touch screen, instead using softkeys, a directional pad (d-pad) and either the numeric keypad or a thumb operated keyboard for idata nput.

In order to meet the PDA definition, standard software should include an appointment calendar, a task list, an address book for business and personal contacts and some kind of notes program. Internet connected PDAs also usually include E-mail and Web support.Most units also include memo recording software for audio notes. Very handy for remembering important details.

Not Quite A Laptop Replacement...Yet

Possibly, to a higher degree than any other computer device, the personal digital assistant lacks the raw computing horsepower and Wireless Broadband capabilities of a desktop or notebook computer. Presently, costs of laptop computers are coming down. Although a lot greater in size, laptops have larger screens and keyboards and are much more powerful.

However, the OQO Model 2 has been brought out in recent times as a fully desktop PC compatible PDA with a USB port so that people can use their normal work and business software or play computer games compatible with ubiquitous operating systems such as Windows XP. It can also connect to regular PC peripherals. Costs still have a way to fall prior to mass adoption takes place in the market but OQO is no longer the exclusive manufacturer of these types of units, so costs should fall possibly within the next few years.

Conclusion

The PDAs strength is that it is easy to transport and less bulky than full-sized computers.It slides easily into a dress shirt or trousers pocket. The additional features like cameras, Global Positioning System, telephony and MP3 player make it flexible unlike any other type of computers in the market.

Many people do not require full desktop capabilities while on the go. As long as they can access their information and sync their data to a full-sized computer when they arrive at their homes and offices, that's really all they need and want to do. So at least in the short run, the PDA will most likely remain as a portable helper for millions of users for years to come.

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