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Last Updated: Sunday, 27 April, 2003, 06:12 GMT 07:12 UK
Handheld gadgets pack it all in
Sony Clie
The Sony Clie combines many functions into one gadget
BBC World ClickOnline's Richard Taylor takes a look at the new developments in the technology behind personal digital assistants, known as PDAs.

There is a deep-rooted belief in the technology world that we should be able to do a whole lot more while we are out and about, such as accessing our own information, connecting to the net and being entertained.

Companies are pouring billions into the idea of being mobile.

Possibly the best news is that getting a foot on the mobile ladder is easier than ever.

At a basic level handheld PDAs are a bit like electronic diaries and address books, giving you access to all your core information.

They were once aimed at businessmen with deep pockets, but with that market not performing, PDA makers have decided that they should focus their efforts on consumers instead.

"We're seeing the market getting cheaper and cheaper," said Ian Delaney of What Handheld? magazine.

"As we look round the show, a lot of Asian manufacturers are offering very cheap PDAs which offer the same functionality as the $500 devices we were buying last year."

Hooked online

The functionality is where the fun really begins. There is apparently no end to the inventiveness being poured into PDAs.

When people choose a phone they want something small and light, not something massive
Ian Delaney, What Handheld?
Perhaps you will want to take a photo and e-mail it to your friends. Or listen to your favourite tunes whilst looking up your next appointment.

These days handheld devices pack enough processing power and memory to be of real use.

In this evolution of the PDA, its core function - access to information - has not been overlooked, especially when it comes to connecting to the internet.

Some of today's models sport Bluetooth which means you can connect your PDA to the net wirelessly in conjunction with a suitable phone.

Several high-end models even include built-in wi-fi, so you can surf the web or get your e-mails if you are within range of a wireless hotspot.

Two into one

What you will not generally find on PDAs this year are voice capabilities.

ClickOnline logo
The XDA is a PDA-phone hybrid
The industry seems to have backed away from last year's attempts to physically integrate phones into the devices.

"We saw several of them last year and they do seem to have gone by the board. I don't think people like it," said Mr Delaney.

"When people choose a phone they want something small and light, not something massive."

This does not mean the all-in-one concept is dead - it is just been reborn.

Instead of the PDA with integrated phone, we have the smaller phone with integrated PDA. Makers of cellphone handsets have jumped on the all-in-one bandwagon with gusto.

New so-called smart phones not only look more and more like small PDAs, they also behave like them, with a host of similar functions including e-mail and internet access, cameras, gaming, audio and video players.

It is a lot to cram in, and traditional PDA makers are yet to be convinced.

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"As we look at 2006, we see lots of growth in that space," said Todd Bradley, President of Palm Solutions.

"But clearly how you take that great set of applications, combine that with a phone, make it a very compelling feature set and form/function product, is a very difficult thing to do."

Most believe it could be some time before manufacturers come up with the right mix.

"It's going to take several generations before we get to the right solution," said Antoine Barre, Vice-President of Hewlett Packard Europe.

PDA makers remain sceptical about all-in-one devices. After all, they have already been down that road and promptly turned back again.

Handset makers, though, appear confident they are onto a winner, though of course with new technologies there are certainly no guarantees.




SEE ALSO:
Costly XDA handheld promises much
25 Jul 02  |  Technology
Here come the smartphones
20 Mar 02  |  Science/Nature
Linux powers smart phone
16 Mar 03  |  Technology
Smart phone battle hots up
05 Mar 03  |  Technology
Palm offers 'no frills' organiser
15 Oct 02  |  Technology


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