Magazine article Online

Have You Seen Your First PDA Yet?

Magazine article Online

Have You Seen Your First PDA Yet?

Article excerpt

"PDA," you say, "What's a PDA? Not another new acronym to learn!" No, "PDA" isn't simply another acronym someone coined for an obscure term. It stands for "Personal Digital Assistant." If the predictions of some computer industry leaders come to pass, it won't be long before the term will be in familiar, or even commonplace usage. But don't rush out to your nearest electronic gadget store and try to buy a PDA. Not only will there be none on the shelves, chances are the staff won't even have heard about them yet.

PDAs are a new family of devices causing considerable excitement in the information world. Although their advocates predict that within a few years, most executives and busy on-the-go professionals will rely on them extensively, others are less enthusiastic or even highly skeptical. Many ONLINE readers may not have heard of PDAs yet. However, as information professionals, we will need to become thoroughly acquainted with them because they could revolutionize the way we get and use information. In this column, I will introduce PDAs and identify some companies that have begun to stake out territory in this market. There are sure to be many interesting developments in the PDA field; I expect to cover them as they unfold.


Although no one is sure just what form PDAs will finally take or what their capabilities will be, enough information has leaked out from research projects at large computer and telecommunications companies and from introductory product announcements to make a reasonable guess. Speculation in the press has been rampant; I was easily able to turn up several hundred citations to articles about PDAs in an online search of several computer industry databases. (Don't just enter the term PDA without any (qualification in a database; it's a widely-used acronym in several unrelated fields.) Even the name of these devices is open to question; I have seen PIA (personal information appliance, IPC (intelligent personal communicator), PDD (personal digital device), and PCA (personal communications assistant) all being used, showing that the PDA field is still in its very early phases.

Most experts define PDAs as small (pocket-sized) devices combining the capabilities of a telephone and a PC. The major feature of PDAs and the most attractive one to users is their portability and ability to communicate using cellular technology (i.e., without needing a telephone line). Input may be via the familiar keyboard, but that limits the size of the device because keyboards must be large enough to accommodate the user's hands. Alternatives to the keyboard are being developed; pen-based input seems to show some potential. The real driving force for PDAs, as with most products, will be applications and the tasks they can perform. A recent overview of PDAs 1! quotes one industry estimate that 40% to 45% of the applications will be organizational, 30% to 35% will be smaller versions of programs popular today (word processors, spreadsheets, etc.), and the rest will be information-related.


PDAs have been announced, but none have appeared on the market yet. The following four technological developments helped make the time ripe for their appearance; we can expect them to have a major impact as the market develops.

* Today's popular and widely available electronic organizers, such as the Sharp Wizard(TM) are PDA precursors. These devices help users organize their time, record appointments, maintain lists of important telephone numbers, take notes, and remember significant occasions such as birthdays. The most sophisticated organizers have capabilities approaching those of PCs, especially when small memory cards are inserted into them.

* PCs continue to become smaller and more portable. Laptops are highly popular, especially with business travelers, and how palmtops such as Hewlett-Packard's HP-95LX(TM) model are available.

* Wireless communications technology is improving and has become the fastest growing segment of the telecommunications market. …

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