At Hand: Palm-Size Computer Helpers

Article excerpt

THE electronics industry is transforming bulky encyclopedias, dictionaries, and even the Bible into slim, portable computers that can sit in the palm of a hand.

"These devices are true consumer hand-held computers," says Roger Lanctot, research director at Personal Technology Research in Waltham, Mass. "They are at the very entry level of a modest explosion that's taking place in hand-held computing."

In 1990, sales of all hand-held, consumer-oriented electronic products totaled $7.4 million; that figure is projected to be $12.5 million by 1994, according to Personal Technology Research.

Relatively new technology in the areas of low-power consumption and data compression make many of these compact products possible. "Fundamentally, it's a lot of grunt work in getting that data compressed," Mr. Lanctot says.

Some of the commercial applications of the shrinking electronic components are showing up in notebook-size computers carried by delivery people. Many United Parcel Service and Federal Express employees now tote compact computers on their routes to help keep records and cut down on paperwork.

Growth in hand-held computers is "taking place more or less quietly in commercial applications and industrial ... or professional markets," Lanctot says.

But the technology also is allowing for portable, electronic versions of a range of reference materials and organization tools for students and businessmen.

Franklin Electronic Publishers in Mount Holly, N. J., has converted the Concise Columbia Encyclopedia from print to a hand-held electronic version.

The user-friendly reference weighs only 12 ounces and features cross-referencing, a thesaurus, automatic spelling correction, and an educational quiz game. …