Palm devices

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Pocket-size PDAs replace organizers, notebook computers for many tasks
When Apple first introduced the Newton personal digital assistant five years ago, savvy technology users turned up their noses at the pocket-size device.
Problems with character recognition when the user scrawled notes on a screen with a special pen led many to conclude the device was a waste of time.
But that was then and this is now.
While Apple abandoned the Newton this spring, the technology lives on in its more successful predecessor, the 3Com PalmPilot, a much-improved version that offers many of the same features of a notebook computer and the carry-along convenience of a pocket organizer.
What the PalmPilot or the IBM WorkPad PC Companion do is lower the total cost of ownership for a business by offering the power of personal computing for $200 to $500, versus the cost of a notebook computer at $5,500 for the new full-feature Apple G-3 to $2,300 on the low end.
“PDAs are becoming the day-in, day-out workhorse machines,” notes Daniel Kelliher, sales manager for H.H. West Company’s modern business technology division in Milwaukee.
“The idea is to lower your cost of purchase with a PDA and still have access to all the things that you used the laptop for,” Kelliher says.
Five months ago, Harley-Davidson’s Chris Bernauer replaced his Franklin planner with a PalmPilot, which weighs 2.8 ounces and measures 3 inches by 4-3/4 inches, and 5/8 of an inch thick. The 28-year-old senior project engineer has realized significant gains, as he can easily keep track of appointments, make to-do lists and take notes during meetings – all with the drag and drop ease of a desktop computer.
Outside the office, Bernauer pulls up a screen which shows his weekly calendar. If his schedule changes, he can drag and drop an item into the appropriate spot. The PalmPilot also allows Bernauer to carry important phone numbers with him.
“It’s just a lot cleaner and more convenient than my Franklin planner,” Bernauer says. “I can carry around my entire life in my shirt pocket.”
At the Gordon Flesch Co. in West Allis, branch manager Kelly Moran has the majority of his sales force using PalmPilots out in the field. What the PalmPilot does is allow a salesperson to call up a customer database on the spot and update it.
“You don’t have to worry about powering it up or booting it up,” Moran says. “It’s a time saver because of its size.”
At the end of the day, when Moran returns to the office he “hot-syncs” all of the information he entered into his PalmPilot into his desktop computer. This is done by placing the device in a cradle which is connected to the computer.
“I was having scheduling conflicts in the field, trying to remember what my appointments were,” Moran says. “Now I don’t have to remember, I just data-sync.”
What makes today’s PDA more effective than the Newton of old is the cottage industry of software programs and hardware add-ons that have sprung up around it.
Lotus software called Easy Sync allows users to pass data back and forth between their PDA and desktop. River Run Software’s Mail on the Run synchronizes e-mail, schedules and contact information.
Also, Microsoft’s development of a stable operating platform for PDAs called Windows CE has helped solidify the PalmPilot’s functionality, Kelliher says.
In the past, there was a misguided effort to duplicate desktop functions in the hand-held devices, says Tony Reese, an information services manager for Harley-Davidson. What makes today’s PalmPilot more effective is that it does not try to mirror the features of the desktop, but complements them instead, Reese says. One example: you can download your e-mail remotely via the PalmPilot.
Right now, with about 100 people within Harley-Davidson’s executive ranks using the PalmPilot, Reese preaches the functionality of the technology to anyone who will listen.
“Anyone who is using a paper-based organizer should consider doing this,” Reese says. “I think it’s fantastic.”
The three principal gains Reese has realized from his PalmPilot are: 1) Convenience and portability (opportunities are no longer lost). 2) Ease of use. The operating system is very “thin.” That means the device is always on, and information you have entered in saves automatically. 3) The computer-enabled function, which allows the user to quickly find things that he would have to search for manually in a paper-based organizer.
Beyond those uses, the PDA allows you to perform desktop functions like surfing the Internet. Recently, AvantGo Inc. introduced the delivery of daily news and business stories. That requires that the PalmPilot user has an Internet connection, and sufficient memory to download. That shouldn’t be a problem for a majority of users, particularly those with the new PalmPilotIII, which has 2 megabytes of memory.
At this point, most PalmPilot users are a technologically-savvy bunch who have a lifestyle that warrants its use. But as more people see the advantages of PDA over laptops, use will increase, H.H. West’s Kelliher says.
“For international travelers, when you go through customs, you have to totally take out and take apart your laptop,” Kelliher adds. “With the PDA, you can zip through customs so much easier than if you are lugging around a laptop.”
Another advantage is the customized applications which drive the PalmPilot are so small that they typically require 30-second downloads to your PC, and then a transfer to your PalmPilot, Reese adds. [The utilities are added to your PC.]
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July 1998 Small Business Times, Milwaukee

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