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PDA'sLUseful or Crap?

Spawned from another message below, I was curious about the opinion of the readers of this board on the current PDA world.

Pocket PC 2002. Palm. Handspring.

Useful? Over-rated toys? Next generation of personal computers that are going to change all our lives?

Dont get me wrong, ive been working w/ PDA's since the early 90's .. from the Newton, hp95lx's to the current CE deivces and love carrying them around. Im just wondering if people thing 3rd parties can succeed in making money on them.
Thoughts?

Steve M
Sunday, January 27, 2002

Useless. The most of devices developed in this directions are misconcepted. They can serve only as a test field for the tech solutions.

Sinclair Evilguest
Sunday, January 27, 2002


I loved my Palm. When I was forced to return it (it was property of my former employer) I was devastated. Only my strong, incorruptible natural stinginess keep me away of spending my precious money buying one.

But, if anybody want to give me one, I will be very happy.

OTOH, I believe the wireless hype it's just bullshit. I like my palm as a personal organizer, but I don't believe it will become something more. At least, not until unfoldable flexible screens gadgets hit the shelves (Red Planet, anyone?)

Leonardo Herrera
Monday, January 28, 2002

Actually, I'm pi radians away from Leonardo on this one.  I've never found any use for a PDA that I couldn't just as easily do on a piece of paper and with a pencil.  I have no interest in buying one.  On the other hand, I'm big on wireless.  If someone comes up with a wireless phone that has Palm-decent handwriting recognition and which I could check my email and surf the web on (the real one, not the gutless WAP imitation currently available) -- damn skippy I'd buy it in a heartbeat.

I wouldn't be entering all my email that way, but just think of it ... I could post to JoelOnSoftware no matter where I travelled without lugging a laptop around!

http://www.alyosha.net/

Alyosha`
Monday, January 28, 2002

I've been using the Ericcson R380s smartphone for a couple of months. It has all the features you described except HTML. It supports WAP but I live too far away from the civilization and our cellular company does not provide this service :)
I found the most features pretty useless though. Maybe this is due to the fact I spend 75% of the time at my office where I can access everything. And I am still much faster at the keyboard than at stilus :)

Sinclair Evilguest
Monday, January 28, 2002

Efficient? Hell no. Useful? That depends on who you're asking.

In my reality a paper notebook and pencil beat every electronic gadget to take notes. Paper agenda's are always faster than any electronic device around. But perceptions differ.

When I was still running around a lot of meetings I always found the people with PDA's and other electronic devices quite amusing. It was like: Let's plan the next meeting in 2 months from now. Who's got time in the first week of March? The participants with paper agenda's normally provided an answer in about 10 seconds, then we were watching in fascination the PDA'ers starting up their PDA's, opening the electronic agenda application, then browse through it in the most awkward way with that little pencil on the tiny display trying to hit that even smaller arrow. After a few minutes most PDA'ers got an answer. Off course somebody could not make it in that week and the question was raised: OK, what about the last week of March? The electronic circus just started again.

I often innocently asked one of those PDA users (I was bored waiting, remember) if those PDA's were useful. Not once did I get a negative answer. Most of the time they enthusiastically showed me an exotic feature, which nobody  (including the demonstrator) would ever use, to prove it. Something like: Look, if everyone got the same PDA then you could automatically find the first free day in everyone's agenda easily using the wireless connection feature. Man was I impressed (not).

So the question is why do people find those things useful? Alan Cooper said it best in "The Inmates are Running the Asylum" (if you have not yet done so, read it). Programmers like complex systems. Easy is boring. They act like gods between man and are constantly proving their superiority by showing how good they are at handling complex systems (like PDA's). And yes, I'm often guilty too.

Jan Derk
Monday, January 28, 2002

Today's PDAs do not really interest me, but they are getting close. The only thing I want is:

Wireless SSH. (plus VNC or X11 for extra credit)

With a decent coverage area (eg most major cities), and reasonable access fees.

Forget color PDAs that play MPEG video and transmit MP3s, and rthen un out of batteries in two hours. Cut-down 200MHz processors and 32MB of RAM? Gimme a break. Just connect me to the 1.5GHz Athlon back at home...

In other words, I believe anything that can be done on a portable unit, can be done better by a dumb terminal connected to a regular machine remotely...

Dan Maas
Monday, January 28, 2002

Good for addresses.  I have a visor with cellphone (called a visorphone).  It is useful, the cell / address integration is great.  The web browser is real html and it is useful when travelling and you need to look something up.

Matthew Cromer
Monday, January 28, 2002

Dan : The new PocketPC OS has a terminal services client built in. Add wireless to that and you have yourself a very handy tool.

Damian
Monday, January 28, 2002

As someone who works in the wireless/handheld industry, I think that the PDA is still an emerging technology.

Despite the PocketPC's increasing marketshare, I think that Palm has the right strategy for the current state of the network. PalmOS is mostly being used for cheaper handhelds that perform a few basic functions very well, provide excellent battery life, and are very useful in a disconnected state. The only problem with the Palm platform is that without major improvements it's going to be way behind when wireless network access becomes widely available.

The PocketPC platform is sort of the opposite of the Palm. Companies like Compaq are making handhelds with great multimedia features. But the devices are expensive and bulky, battery life is lousy and some of the most useful features (like the miniature versions of Internet Explorer and Outlook) are better if you're on the network.

PDA/phone consolidation is still a work in progress, but each new round of PDA/phones improves on its predecessors and we may eventually get something really good. It'll be interesting to see how Handspring's Treo does.

But we're not going to see widespread use of any of these things until wireless network access is cheap and widely available. Right now, it's common for people to pay between 20 and 50 dollars for a home phone, a similar charge for a cell phone, and a similar charge for Internet access (dial-up or broadband) at home. The $40-$50 that wireless access typically costs is too much for most non-business users. When wireless is available bundled with cell phone and/or DSL plans, adoption will pick up dramatically.

Beth Linker
Monday, January 28, 2002

Personally I find my Handspring invaluable. My other half swears by paper notebooks and pens, but he loses them, leaves them places... (I've seen him do it) I don't in quite the same fashion because I've only got the one PDA, and so I just check for: purse, PDA, mobile, keys when I leave.

He's right in that the notepads don't need batteries. But then my Handspring hasn't ever /run out/ of battery either - I just change them when it reminds me to. Talking of which, paper notepads don't beep to remind you to do things... I've never got a pen and paper in the same place and half the time neither have the "do it all on paper" brigade. I can, if I mislay the stylus, at least drive the PDA with a fingernail. Or a cocktail stock or whatever is to hand...

I haven't found a way to run a wildcarded search over a stack of manual notebooks as fast...

And, the clincher here, I keep backups of the PDA on desktop machines. It takes 30 seconds to do that. If I ever do lose it, I haven't lost the info. OK, I'd need to buy a new PDA.

My handspring is FAR more than is needed. In some years of having it, I've not filled up the memory. The battery life isn't ferociously short, there's always plenty of notice to go buy new ones. And I've always got a computer with me. I've never yet got around to writing source code on it, but I do write design things on it on trains.

I'm blessed with an inability to remember more than about three things at once, and having the PDA gives me a memory extension without which I'd just never get round to remembering to do anything. It keeps TONS of phone numbers and big to-do lists, I run projects on it, I keep my shopping list on it, it reminds me when people's birthdays are. I'd need a ton of seperate bits of paper to run all that for me. I'd need to keep buying new calendars, and new notebooks and copying phone numbers around and changing address entries and things. And I couldn't play Nethack in meetings and look like I was taking notes... :-)

Katie Lucas
Monday, January 28, 2002

Having used a PalmVx for about 2 years now I can tell that the only software I use on it is the software installed by default (well, there are some games and a currency converter).
It's really useful for meetings and it doesn't takes me ages to get to the correct date and time.
I agree that the stylus is not the best way to type but hey, when you are waiting in a car and an idea pops up, it's quite useful to write it down on the palm. The fact that it will be possible to get the memo back into the PC without further trouble is quite useful.
I own a laptop but it's way too slow to boot (or come back from stadnby) when I need to write down some notes.
The good stuff with this Laptop/PDA and cell phone (Nokia 6210) is that they are all compatible through the IR conncetion.
Anyhow, I will never use a device bigger than the Palm. iPAQ machines are way too big for my pocket.
I could resume my PDA use with 'get the job done quick'. A iPAQ is too complex for doing just that.

Phil
Monday, January 28, 2002

For Leonardo Herrera and Alyosha`,

I have worked on WML and HDML applications.  They are limited, but can serve a useful purpose.  However, I do agree with both of you.  One needs access to any website--intra or inter.  Here is a promising product I saw on my-first-employer-after-college's website.  It sounds promising.

http://www.bitstream.com/wireless/hp/index.html

Of course, a PDA is needed and there are not many phones that can justify a screen like the Jornado.

Thom Bentley
Monday, January 28, 2002

I was in the "useless toy" camp and "I can do all that with a pencil and paper" until I started using one (a PocketPC 2002 device, though I don't think that matters). Then I discovered that, for me, having my schedule & task list always to hand really does make a difference in how efficiently I work.

So, now I tend to discount the opinion of those who haven't actually tried one.

But then, YMMV.

Mike Gunderloy
Monday, January 28, 2002

Like Alyosha, I titally disagree with Leonardo: most PDA users would be just as well off with a little black book. However, wireless devices like BlackBerry will be huge. Always-on email access from anywhere will be the killer app for devices of this kind. Which means Palm's handwriting recognition goes away. Unlike Alyosha, I believe the attempts to bundle a mobile phone into the devices will never find much of a market. The two devices have radically different needs and there's little advantage to bundling them. Not only do the hybrid makers have to convince consumers of the value of wireless PDA, they have to convinve them to throw away their mobile phone. It's a very bad strategy.

pb
Monday, January 28, 2002

<Not only do the hybrid makers have to convince consumers of the value of wireless PDA, they have to convinve them to throw away their mobile phone. It's a very bad strategy. >

Oh, I dunno.  I'd happily throw away my cell if my PDA could handle voice.  Why carry two gizmos if one will do the job of both?  The Europeans don't understand why we insist that cell phones and PDAs have to be two differerent thingies, and I'm not sure I do either.

Chris Dunford
Tuesday, January 29, 2002


Probably I wasn't being too clear -my english itsn't what you would call "perfect". I wasn't arguing that a PDA is that useful, mind you; I'm doing just well with a paper agenda. But I loved it, couldn't help.

And for the wireless thing, I still think it just sucks. Probably is not the applications done for it; it's about the devices available. The only device (that I know) that gives a pleasant experience is the iPaq, but don't fit in my pocket.

So, until I get one of that unfoldable thingies that the astronauts of the Red Planet movie has, wireless is not for me.

Leonardo Herrera
Tuesday, January 29, 2002

I've got a HP Jornada with a 256MB Flash Card. I use it for music mostly. Its a great MP3 player if nothing else!
The Calendar, contacts, tasks stuff is very useful as well, as is the ability to use it for Word and Excel.
I travel quite a lot so the email is good for me but beware, using a mobile phone its a very expensive way to get your email.

Summing it up, I've had a pretty positive experience.

Tony
Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Because, Chris, attempts to combine two gixmos into one invariably are inferior at both. Nowhere is this more evident than in every attempt to combine a PDA and a phone. The reasons are obvious: the needs of each compete. The best wireless PDA has a largish screen and a keyboard. The best mobile phone is tiny and has a numeric key-pad. Hybrids will continue to find no buyers in the US no matter what Danger, Handspring or Good bring out.

pb
Tuesday, January 29, 2002

What you get is a computer with a power of PDP-11 (with better graphical capability) in your pocket. The question is -- do you need one?

Michael K
Thursday, January 31, 2002

The palm I picked up 3 years ago is the best (and most expensive) addressbook I ever bought.  <grin>  At least 1.5 megs of the 2meg unit are free.

Note: before the palm... I was completely inept at keeping phone numbers with me... paper solutions quickly became obsolete and were difficult to maintain.

Whenever I need it (which isn't too often lately).... its useful

Joel A.
Thursday, January 31, 2002

I know I'm coming in late, but I also find my PDA very useful.  Here are some reasons:

(1) Calendar/ToDo: I can enter an item once and have it appear properly in multiple views/contexts.  I can change or repeat an item in under a second.  I can set an alarm to beep me five minutes or an hour before a meeting, so I actually get there on time.  Try getting a paper notebook to do that.

(2) Calculator.  I don't need this very often, but it's awfully handy and the only way I'd have that functionality would be to carry around a *different* electronic gadget along with my paper notebook.

(3) Memo/outline.  With Hi-Note I can organize my notes etc. into arbitrarily deep hierarchies as I'm taking them, edit them, reorganize them from one "folder" to another, etc.  Net result is much more comprehensible notes than I could take on paper.

(4) Games/etexts.  Life savers during meetings.  I can appear to be taking notes when in fact I'm almost totally tuned out.

Maybe these sorts of improvements wouldn't justify the cost of a PDA to many people, but personally I find it well worth the cost.

Jeff Darcy
Thursday, January 31, 2002

I don't know about the US, but look at the phone-bill of the average norwegian teenager. You'll see that about 70% is spent on sending SMS messages. Despite an awful user-interface, terrible keyboard and tiny displays, they're using it like crazy...

Studies show that kids here actually spend more on sms than candy nowadays.

I definetely think an affordable combined cellphone and PDA with email and instant messenging will be a hit.

Daniel Staver
Thursday, January 31, 2002

I've been a Handspring user for about 2 years now, and couldn't live without it. I used to be a paper organizer user, and absolutely relied on it. Haven't opened a paper organizer since I bought the PDA.

I still take most of my notes at meetings on paper, then type the relevant info into a desktop machine. They become either tasks, memos, or a journal that I keep as a set of "doc" files. I have all of my journals, reference materials, and follow-up material all in one place; and it's all searchable. Plus, it's always with me. This is a boon when I'm on-call.

One program I find most useful is one that safely keeps all of my passwords in the PDA, and keeps them safe when backed up on my desktop computer. The information is all encrypted, all the time, except when I look at it or deliberately export it.

Like a paper organizer, you have to learn how to use it, and what it's good for. Plus, what it's not good for.

I'm not a fan of the idea of combining the PDA with a phone. But some integration, perhaps through Bluetooth, would be welcome. It would be nice to have my phone have access to all of the contacts in my PDA, and have my PDA be able to use my phone to connect to the Internet (for very limited applications). Ditch the cradle, and sync from anywhere. How about reminders sent to my wristwatch instead of having to pull out the PDA?

Andy Fuller
Friday, February 15, 2002

I would say that PDAs are extremely useful, but with one caveat.  There are things that desktop & laptop computers are good at, there are things that pen & paper are good for, and there are things that PDAs are good for that are completely different from what desktop computers & Franklin Planners are useful for.

Yes, Franklin Planners & other daytimers of the pen & paper variety are useful, and in many cases, work better than a Palm or PocketPC.  But I find them bulky, and I find that Franklin Planners are only useful when you carry them with you ALL THE TIME.  My Palm is much more compact, and I keep it in a belt-clip case so that it is with me ALL THE TIME, so for that reason, the Palm is more useful for me than the Franklin Planner.

Also, the apps that PDAs are good for are completely different from the apps that desktop PCs are good for.  The most frequently used applications on my Palm are:

Calendar/scheduling.  The alarm clock functionality to remind you of appointments & such is extremely handy.
To Do lists.
Contact lists (electronic Rolodex)
Memo Pad.  Essentially, these four apps make the PDA into an electronic daytimer, which is useful.
Password safes - one of the few truly safe ways to write a password down so you can remember it.
Mapping software like Mapopolis, possibly combined with a GPS peripheral.  Also extremely handy if you get lost.
Calculator
Avant Go style mini web browser, but I use it for weather reports, quicky news, movie schedules, drink recipes.
And of course, games - anythings from Tetris to Minesweeper to card games to arcade games are available, and are great for killing time & eating up batteries. ;)

I use my Palm completely differently from the way I use my desktop PC.  The apps tend to be simpler, and handy in "real-life" situations like navigating, time management, remembering phone numbers & other hard-to-memorize pieces of information, & killing time when I'm bored.  I find that yes, the input mechanisms like Grafitti (while slower than typing or writing on paper, works surprisingly well), teeny-weeny keyboards & touch screens do slow things down, but the benefits outweigh the disadvantages for me.

Meldroc
Saturday, February 16, 2002

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