Windows Phone Thoughts: Smartphone? PDA? Which Way Do I Go?

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Friday, May 14, 2004

Smartphone? PDA? Which Way Do I Go?

Posted by Anthony Caruana in "ARTICLE" @ 10:15 AM

Back in 1996 an upstart company developed a new piece of hardware called the Palm 1000. While the idea of a miniaturised computer was not new (think Star Trek) the fact that someone had actually been able to make one and design an operating system that could work within the limitations of such small hardware was a huge leap forward. It was one of those revolutionary events that hits an industry every few years.

Since then, things have come a long way. A competing platform, built around an operating system called Windows CE emerged and a platform war, reminiscent of Apple vs IBM was launched. The good thing about that war was that it gave rise to a rapid evolution that saw a number of different devices emerge. Some have come and gone while others are still evolving.

One of those developing platforms is the smartphone. Now, for the purpose of this piece, Iím going to define a smartphone as a device that offers connection to a telephone network, is able to be carried easily, lets you do more than just make phone calls and provides access to a data network. I know that this definition is broad but Iím going to go out on a limb and say that for a smartphone to be smart it needs to me more than a phone. However Iím not going to define what that ďmoreĒ is. Also, the operating system is not important. That means that for me a smartphone is not just a device that runs Windows Mobile (or its antecedents). It might be running Linux, Symbian, Palm OS or some other operating system.

Likewise, when I talk about PDAs Iím going to remain operating system agnostic. Although the two most prominent platforms, Palm and Pocket PC/Windows Mobile, are different in many ways, for the purpose of this discussion they arenít that different. Iíd suggest that they deliver much of the same functionality, albeit in different ways.

Finally, if youíre reading this to get the answer to which is better, a PDA or a smartphone, then you can stop reading now. Iím not going to engage in that debate. Hopefully, by the end of this article youíll understand why I simply canít.

The Case for PDAs
The modern PDA is a bit of a marvel. Packed into a unit weighing less that 200 grams we get a fast processor, a substantial stash of memory, a bright colour screen and a plethora of different expansion and connectivity options. Typically the devices are around 4Ē by 3Ē and have several programmable buttons to invoke applications.

With a PDA you can take your diary, contacts and task list with you and have it synchronise back to your desktop Personal Information Management (PIM) software. But the real power of the PDA is in its ability to do many of the things that, in the not that distant past, you needed a PC for. With the modern PDA you can listen to music, manage your photo collection, create, read and edit documents, use spreadsheets for complex calculations, manage your email, and surf the Web. In fact, Iím writing this with just a PDA and an external keyboard. Iím connected to the Internet so I can do a Google search if I need to do some research as I go and, if the kids' TV gets too loud in the background, I can use my device to turn the volume down with remote control software.

As long as youíre prepared to compromise on a few things, a well accessorised PDA can almost replace a notebook PC for many travellers. In my case, I was able to ditch my notebook at work. I just use a desktop PC and my PDA most days. Because my PDA is so flexible, I can even use it for showing PowerPoint presentations with the right external hardware and software.

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