Handheld computers are experiencing the most rapid acceptance of any of the big three mobile technology platforms, which includes cell phones and laptops. Worldwide smart handheld device shipments should jump by more than 13 percent in 2002, says reserach firm IDC. What's the attraction? It's not just the hardware, which boasts processors running at 400MHz and up to 64MB of internal memory, or the basic operating software, usually Microsoft's Pocket PC version of Windows or Palm's OS. According to James H. States, a Spokane, Washington handheld computing consultant , a major factor is the increasing sophistication of software that ties the devices to the information and applications entrepreneurs need to run their firms.
States points to HanDBase, a database program from DDH Software that gives Windows- or Palm-based handhelds the ability to extract data from a variety of corporate computer databases, allowing CEOs to pack, for example, the very latest inventory and sales in a pocket. "This is one of the most important developments in product technology," says States.
Combined with large-capacity memory cards that let handhelds carry up to 256MB of data on a plug-in chip, "you can easily carry your products, product descriptions, product databases and prices, all updated on a regular basis [by synchronizing your PC with your PDA]," he says. Other similar programs, such as Quickoffice 6.0 from Cutting Edge Software, allow handheld owners to view, edit and synchronize spreadsheets and word processing documents created on desktops using Microsoft's Office applications.
For heavy-duty handheld computing, States is less enamored of the cell phone-PDA hybrids such as Handspring's Treo 300. One problem is the lack of a seamless nationwide data network for these devices to work with, he says. Another is the way wireless modems, faster processors andcolor screens eat up power. Early PDAs ran 40 hours on a couple of AAA batteries, he notes, while the latest Compaq iPaq handheld lasts only three to five hours.
"Mobile isn't so mobile if the color screen and the processor eat up so much power that you have to plug in every four to six hours," States says. "If you pound out the pages on your PDA, you'll have to choose wisely so you can be away from an outlet."