Jump Into the PDA Pool!
Psychiatric News
Volume 43 Number 21 page 21-21

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 PDA?"

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 rather limited.

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 system.

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 device.

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 medical information.

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 now! ▪

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