FIG1It has been over a decade
since Palm introduced its groundbreaking "Pilot" personal digital
assistant (PDA) that defined the handheld computing industry. Its ease of use;
built-in productivity tools such as calendar, memos, and to-do lists; and
portability have taken mobile computing devices from a novelty device for
personal use to become entrenched and mission critical as evidenced by the
success of Research in Motion's (RIM) Blackberry. As Palm has seen its market
share dwindle, it leaves users with the question, "What is the next
Over the years, the PDA has evolved considerably. At first, the addition of
wireless capabilities such as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi were considered tremendous
additions to the features available on PDAs running Palm Operating System (OS)
and Pocket PC OS, now known as Windows Mobile. Wi-Fi provided a limited
Web-browsing experience, and Bluetooth provided synchronization without cables
as well as linkages to peripherals such as keyboards and cellular phones. The
early data services were both slow and expensive, and network coverage was
Today, there are few PDAs produced without all three of the wireless
capabilities described above. Along with more memory, faster processors,
cameras, and global positioning systems, the smartphone (PDA with wireless
data access over cellular networks) has essentially taken over the PDA market.
Palm even makes a Treo smartphone with Windows Mobile OS. This idea appears
odd at first, but the company sold off the Palm OS to Access Co. Ltd. in 2005,
which allowed Palm to be just a hardware company and free to use any operating
With improved wireless data networks across the country and increasing
dependence on e-mail for communication and productivity, the RIM Blackberry
device has become the corporate standard. As the Blackberry market share
increased, software developers took notice. In the last two years, medical
software such as Epocrates Rx, Lexi-Comp's Lexi-Drugs, and Skyscape
DSM-IV have become available for the Blackberry OS.
Apple's iPhone was tremendously successful in its launch back in January
2007. Over 1 million iPhones were sold in nine months; however, it had one
limitation—no third-party software. This past July, Apple released the
3G iPhone and sold over a million on the first weekend. The new iPhone
firmware allows for the installation of third-party software. Older iPhone
owners can install the new firmware, but will not have the faster data speed
of the 3G network. However, older iPhone owners can take solace in that they
have better battery life. The iPhone can now install medical software such as
Epocrates Rx, and many titles on Skyscape are now available for the iPhone as
well as the iTouch (same PDA, no phone capability). Lexi-Comp is now
developing its content for the iPhone as well.
The process of installing software on the iPhone and iPod has become much
easier. Apple's iTunes store is easy to navigate. Once the software has been
selected and purchased, a simple click puts it into the queue for download.
When the iPhone or iPod is connected, the software is installed without need
for further intervention. Since the iPhone and iPod do not have the ability to
add memory, it is recommended to purchase the largest capacity possible as
well as to limit the amount of pictures, videos, and songs installed on the
On the Blackberry, the preferred method of installing software is the Over
the Air (OTA) method, which uses the wireless data service on the device.
Typically, a Web site where the software is purchased then sends an e-mail
link or SMS (short message text) for the software. Once this link is selected,
the software will be downloaded and installed. One caveat is that device
memory can become limited with the large databases such as Epocrates Rx. Many
devices have a memory card slot, usually a mini-SD (secure digital) card,
which can be used to store pictures, videos, and songs, freeing up main memory
for the medical software.
The interfaces of these devices are much easier to use than in the past.
The iPhone and iPod have an intuitive multitouch capable screen. Blackberry
devices used to have a jog dial that clicks, but now have a small trackball
for faster scrolling and the ability to select menus and options. They can
either have specific medical software installed or browse the Internet for
There are newer devices released almost every year, if not every business
quarter, which makes it a challenge to decide whether to take the plunge and
purchase a new device. Even Google is getting into the business of mobile
phones with its Android project, a Linux OS—based phone platform.
Instead of sitting on the sidelines to wait for market consolidation, jump in