based] [Pen based]
Operating Systems: [Windows CE] [EPOC] [Palm]
[Consumer device or business tool?] [Speech] [Internet]
This information has been obtained from published material. It is
given to illustrate the different ways the providers
segment their markets and should not be used to make a purchase decision. Cost are as at late 1999.
PDAs usually come in 2 forms: those with miniature keyboards and those with touch sensitive screen operated by a pen (or stylus). Stylus PDAs usually support handwriting recognition and some of the keyboard models also have a pen and touch sensitive screen.
|The HP Palmtop PCs and the Psion Series 5mx typifies the keyboard
PDAs. They aim to provide a familiar PC like feel, especially those that
run the Windows CE operating system, as do the HP machines. They run a variety
of applications, typically word processing, spreadsheet, simple drawing,
calendar/diary, and address book. Communications usually embrace e-mail (via
a mobile phone) and data synchronisation with mainstream PC applications
(via cable or infra-red link) which requires the PC to run an link application..
Other applications can included internet browsing, fax, alarm clocks, calculators, spell checkers, jotters, databases, voice recording, and games. The more popular machines will have specialist applications written by 3rd parties.
|Physically, keyboard PDAs usually have smaller keys and there
are less of them, so a function (Fn) key is used for extra operations. Reviewers
state that they found the Psion keyboard to have an excellent feel. Screens
are often VGA resolution but half height. The latest models of PDAs have
The Psion range use a risc-based Arm processor and come with 16MB of memory. Additional memory can be provided via standard Compact Flash cards. The new Psion 7 aims to complete in the notebook market. It is big than the popular 5mx, runs at a fast 100 MHz, is colour and can use PC Card peripherals.
As with all PDAs, battery life is an important consideration. Psion quote a full month on two AA batteries for the 5mx. Overall weight can be just 354g (Psion).
For mobile communications, PDAs are usually only compatible with specific models of mobile phones. It is also important to check that the synchronisation software is compatible with your PC office software.
PDA combined with mobile phone
The Nokia Communicator 9110 is a combined keyboard PDA and mobile phone which overcomes any compatibility worries of connecting separately purchased items. It has an infra-red port allowing it to receive pictures from digital cameras which it can then e-mail (as demonstrated in the TV advert). It has a contact manager, notepad, email, fax, PC data synchronisation and internet browser. It uses the GEOS operating system. Third parties also write applications for it. The main criticism has been it's size, but like all these PDA devices the purchaser has to weigh up numerous factors and often make a compromise.
When is a PDA a notebook or a .......... It's confusing and no doubt down to market positioning. The HP Jornada 820 is verging on the size and weight (1150g) of a portable PC. It has full screen, almost full sized keyboard, glidepad, modem, Type II card slot and runs Windows CE. Machines like the Toshiba Librettos and the Sony Vaio run Windows 98. The Vaio comes complete with integral digital camera. Psion call their model 7 a mini-notebook and position it in the market between a palmtop and a full notebook. It weighs 1 Kg.
|3Coms Palm Pilot and Casio's Cassiopeia E11 typifies the pen based PDAs.
They usually have handwriting recognition software where you write each letter in a special area on the screen, although some also offer an on screen keyboard to "tap away" at. The Philips Nino has script handwriting recognition software. Some have scroll wheels or buttons for scrolling long text. Compaq's Aero 2130 PDA not only has colour but also a useful asset management facility whereby the unit will download its hardware and software profile to an asset management package - useful for corporates deploying many devices.
Pen based PDAs have applications such as diary, phone book, memo taker, to-do list, calculator and PC data synchronisation, with the latter requiring the PC to run Windows CE desktop interface application. Some also support e-mail, web browsing either direct or via mobile phones, and downloadable music or talking books. Some have audio dictation. Because they tend to have less functionality than their bigger brothers, the keyboard PDAs, their battery life is longer. Up to 3 months on some models though colour screens can reduce this significantly. The Palm Pilot IIIx uses just 2 AAA batteries.
Most have monochrome screens with 240 x 320 resolution. Standard memory can vary from 2MB to 16MB with extra via CompactFlash cards. Many have a docking cradle which connects the PDA to the PC and some cradles also incorporate a recharger and others a modem.
|3Com is the most famous of the pen based PDAs - its first machine came
out in 1996 and it now commands 47% of the European hand held market with
its nearest rival at 30% (October 1999). Penetration in the US is even
more at about 75%. The Palm Pilot machines are based on the Motorola
68K 16 bit processor and the current model is the VII which adds wireless
internet browsing, but only from approved sites, and SMS. Just
recently in January 2000 it has lanched its first colour model
the Palm IIIc.
Thousands of developers have written specialist applications for the Palm Pilot. Future developments include support for the Bluetooth short range wireless communications, colour, video and credit card slots. It has alliances with Lotus, Remedy and SAP.S
|A rather unusual device is the Franklin Rex Pro5 which is a Personal Information Manager built into a Type PC Card. It holds up to 6,000 names, addresses, telephone numbers, appointments, notes, memo and to-dos. No data can be input into the Rex Pro5 but on return to the office, a portable or desktop PC is used to update a database and then the Rex Pro5 is synchronised by plugging it into the Type II slot in the portable PC or into an adapter connected to the desktop PC. Battery life is 6 months! Cost at mid 1999 was £170.||
PDAs usually come with one of 3 rival operating systems: Microsoft's Windows CE, Psion's EPOC and 3Coms PalmOS. However, in some cases companies have preferred to use sub-note books like the Toshiba Librettos which run Windows 98 and can thus run standard PC applications.
Microsoft's Windows CE has been adopted by the majority of PDA manufacturers with the main exception being Psion and 3Com. It comes in 2 flavours for keyboard PDAs and for handheld palm devices and is provided with a range of Windows like office applications. See the Software page.
Some rival manufacturers argue that Windows CE is too resource demanding for PDAs, mobiles and other small handheld devices. Microsoft believes that with the ever improving power to cost ratio and miniaturisation (which usually means reduced power consumption) that time is on its side.
EPOC is a 32 bit operating system, with an integral Java virtual machine, which was developed from the ground up to run very small devices such as mobile phones. It was developed by the UK company Psion and has been adopted by the Symbian Consortium, manufacturers of mobile and smart phones. It comes with a range of office applications. Psion has the distinction of being publically identified by Microsoft as a serious threat to its ambitions in the mobile computing area. See the Software page.
PalmOS is the operating system developed by 3Com's Palm Computing Platform division for 3Com's Palm Pilot range of PDAs (made by another division). PalmOS is available to other vendors of PDAs, mobiles (e.g. Qualcomm), and even barcode readers (Symbol). The latest release includes support for TCP/IP stack (the Internet protocol) and Java. Over 17,000 software developer kits have been acquired and many specialist applications are available including access to Oracle and SAP systems. However, more recently 3Com has joined the Symbian Consortium, suggesting it sees the 32 bit EPOC operating system a better migration path than further developing its own 16 bit system.
|At first these handheld devices were not taken seriously by corporates,
especially IT departments. However that is changing as the power and
functionality of these devices increases, and the significant boost that
Microsoft gave the market when it produced Windows CE, especially version
2. Many pioneering companies have
demonstrated significant business benefits by using these devices especially
where they have written bespoke applications that integrate with core processes.
The result is bottom line savings, improved customer service and better
The biggest concern in many companies seems to be from IT managers who may have 100s of these devices to manage - and that's the ones they know about. With some PDAs now costing as little as £200, many users are buying PDAs out of their own pocket or with the office petty cash. They then proceed to re-engineer the company's processes.
Individuals tend to make a choice based on styling, size and weight, which has even led 3Com to launch a colour Palm Pilot even though it has previously expressed concerns as to shorter battery life and bigger bulk.
On the other hand, IT department are more concerned with support, ease of applications development and fit with existing technology. For IT departments therefore, the CE based machines seem more attractive.
Speech recognition for PDAs is under development having been refined and proven for desktop PCs. It will be particularly advantages for pen based handhelds as these machines currently use handwritten recognition software which needs care and attention in use. If speech recognition succeeds then pen based machines will move into the keyboard based market place where they will under-cut their rivals. One of the downsides of voice dictation is that people may be reluctant to use them in public places such as trains - in fact, will they work where there is significant background noise? However, it is becoming increasingly common to see people "talking to themselves" when in fact they are using hands-free mobiles, so perhaps the British have lost their reserve!
Speech to text is becoming increasingly used to read e-mail and other documents to mobile users. The conversion usually takes place on a server at the mobile operator rather than in the handheld, but this option will no doubt arrive, thus cutting out the "middleman".
With the Internet becoming main stream access to the internet is important. The Psion 5mx comes with an HTML standard internet browser that supports frames. Psion have made an agreement with GRIC Communications so that Psion users can access GRIC's news, travel and local information portal. AvantGo.com provides a similar service for Palm Pilot and Windows CE users. The Psion 5mx can also run Java applets, useful as a number of web sites use Java.
The Ericsson MC218 comes with a WAP microbrowser so it will be restricted to WAP web sites or full web sites that have been converted via a WAP gateway. These are few at the moment but should dramatically increase as WAP mobile phones take-off. WAP web sites should be more suitable for small devices like PDAs.
3Com uses a technique it calls Web Clipping to remove banners and images from web pages so that they download faster and display better on its Palm Pilots.
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