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by: Steve Bralovich

Personal organizers or PDAs are not yet handheld microcomputers, but they've been utilized by a lot of people over the past few years. Personal digital assistants are known as pocket pc devices or palmtop PDAs. They have umpteen uses including: mathematical calculations, use as a clock with calendar functions, surfing the Web, sending and receiving netmail, video uses, typing and word processing, address book functionality, constructing and compiling spreadsheets, interpreting bar codes, listening to radio programs or stereo music listening, playing video game*, poll results entries, and Global Positioning System functions. More contemporary PDAs also have color displays, MP3 audio and telephone capabilities, allowing for them to be applied as mobile phones (smartphones), online browsers, and portable media players. Many now also feature cameras that can shoot pictures which can then be sent via email to Flickr and mySpace accounts. Practically all later PDAs can browse the Net, intranets or extranets via wireless local area network, or Wireless Wide-Area Networks .Almost all PDA's use touch screen displays excepting Smartphones which depend on keypad menu systems ascribable to their more diminutive 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 good deal bigger in size, laptop computers have more full-size screens and keyboards and are have greater computing power.

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.


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.

A lot of people simply don't need full desktop features while actively 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.


The writer has served as a Pocket PC software developer for over 5 years. He runs a weekly web log that addresses all areas of mobile computing including personal digital assistants. To view videos and read more info about PDAs, Smartphones and other associated devices visit: http://pdatoday.blogspot.com

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