Personal Digital Assistants (And Smartphones)

PDAs, Palmtop, Ubiquitous Computing, Etc

The idea of  a personal digital assistant has been around since the 1960s.  One of the first visions of a PDA like device was the Dynabook proposed by Alan Kay. Xerox PARC's Ubicomp project tried to make devices disappear into the background and explored continuous connectivity. The Apple Newton was the first useful PDA.  The Newton community is still very active, check out  As far as I can tell, the first, truly successful PDA for the general public was the Palm Pilot initially offered for sale in 1995.   The Pilot owes a lot to earlier research.  The Pilot is particularly indebted to the Ubicomp project's  PARCTAB including the form factor and the writing system called Unistrokes.  The Graffiti writing system used by Palm was based on Unistrokes.  Also check out Experimental Systems for the Post-PC Era.  There are a number of projects which are using open source software to explore handheld based systems.

These days, the PDA as a stand-alone device is pretty much dead. The smartphone or the media player (Apple iTouch) are today's PDA

Check out  PDACentral for lots of info and links for all sorts of PDAs.  Memoware has lots of books for downloading into PDA.  Flexible Keyboard from men&machine looks kind of cool, I wonder how well it works.

Apple iPhone Touch / iTouch

Just starting... move on

Recommended Software


I have had a Pilot since they were first released.  The Pilot is the standard by which all current generation PDAs should be judged.  The UI was designed for small, low resolution, monochrome displays.  As a result, it doesn't have a lot of junk.  Most operations are quick and easy.  The Pilot is also fun to hack on.  As a result, there are a lot of freeware and shareware applications.   These days there are at least seven company which machine PDS which use PalmOS: Palm Pilot, Treo (which is now owned by Palm), Sony Clie, Handera, Sangsung 330 550, Kyocera smartphone, the Tapwave Zodiac gaming machine, Alphasmart's Dana, or a windows CE PDA with styletap emulator, or the Nokia tablets running GVM.

I am using a Centrino serviced by Verizon.  It is the best phone/PDA on the market today... but it still has a ways to go. Good: runs PalmOS which has the best PDA UI on the market today, a StrongARM CPU so you aren't waiting on your apps (Treo 180 was too slow), the phone has reasonable audio quality and reception, the wireless data works, and you can roam to Verizon which has the best coverage of any cell provider in the US today. Downsides: PalmOS which is showing it's age and can have stability issues, keyboard sucks, phone app UI needs some improvement, the camera is useless, when using wireless data you can't receive inbound phone calls, and the battery only lasts ome day of heavy use. The easiest way to find good deals on Treo's is checking out the Treo Central store.

Recommended Software:

If you want to develop software for the Palm device I would suggest checking out:

Web Resources

Windows CE

In 1998 I gave my Pilot to my wife and needed to get a new PDA.  I really liked the Pilot, but I couldn't get 100% sync with Outlook.  [My life was in Outlook, and I use the rich data rep to keep multiple addresses, contact numbers, etc for people.].  So I decided to get a P/PC.  I used a Cassiopeia E-10 P/PC for about a year.  I love having all my info, integration with my Outlook calendar, etc, but I really miss my Pilot.  Good things about the E-10 are full replication of my Outlook info, the voice recorder, a larger screen than the Pilot,  and extra cpu power.  The base CE applications also have richer data: the memo pad  lets you set typeface and include drawings, todo list support repeating items and alerts, etc.  Bad things?  A Windows like UI which has too much junk for a small screen, poor battery life, and not as much freeware as the Pilot.  While the raw speed of the E-10 is better than my Pilot, the time to execute things like searches is much higher - I still don't get this.  My biggest annoyance... the options for task sorting is wrong (the Pilot's 4 options are exactly right).  When I stopped working for Microsoft I switch to a Visor and have been really happy.  Every now and the I give the latest CE device a try... most recently the HP iPAQ 2215.  The UI still sucks and apps don't give the views I want for daily life.

Recommended Software: 

Web Resources

Nokia N810

Close... but no cigar.  The ability to run and sync core Palm appliances provides appliances which haven't yet been ported / written for maemo powered devices made me consider this device. The mail client will use IMAP as a protocol to pickup mail, but doesn't sync well. From a usability perspective the keyboard is fairly poor... especially the 4 way key which is too small... and the UI design isn't friendly to one hand usage which I think is important for this sort of device.


Other Stuff

Last edited 05/24/09 by MAV