Personal Digital Assistants

In the Beginning

PDAs first came on the market in 1993, when Apple's Newton was introduced. The dazzling little device never quite lived up to all the claims its manufacturer made, however, especially regarding the handwriting-recognition function, which was supposed to learn to quickly recognize an owner's jottings and convert handwriting into text. Although the first-generation Newton didn't live up to its lofty promises, it did open the door for a variety of developmental improvements which have placed a number of remarkable units on the market.

This year's Newton goes well beyond the promises originally made by Apple, as do units from Sony, Hewlett Packard, Motorola and others. Many of today's units really will recognize your handwriting, and reviews by consumer publications indicate that some units today actually do learn to pick up on the quirks of individual penmanship and convert them into printed text.

Beyond being an electronic notepad, these units are virtually complete computers in themselves--so portable and flexible that you can connect to the Internet via a cellular phone to check your latest e-mail messages while vacationing in Maui, or send an important fax to a client while stuck in traffic. You can even work on your company's balance sheet, sketch out an idea, or book a flight back from your vacation in Maui.

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This article was originally published in the November 1996 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Personal Digital Assistants.

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