Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

Another buzzword: Compatibility

Posted by Michael Brown on August 10, 2005

When it comes to handhelds, there are three key areas for compatibility: expansion media, connection interfaces, and software. Expansion media are removable memory cards, like “floppy disks”. There are several kinds out there, but the two that are compatible with palm products are MMC and SD cards.

Connection interfaces refers to how you want to hook your handheld up to the desktop computer. Most new units ship with a USB (Universal Serial Bus) cable or cradle, as all new computers have them. Older computers, or PC’s running Windows 95 or NT, don’t support USB and require an optional serial cable or cradle. It should be noted that the actual connector on the handheld has evolved over the years and different models, so you should check compatibility if you buy any peripherals. palmOne models use mini-USB on some Zire and Tunsten models, the older Universal Connector (currently on the Tunsten C) and the new Athena connector (as seen on the Tungsten E2 and T5, Treo 650, and the new LifeDrive).

Our final piece of the compatibility puzzle is software. Software must be written for your type of handheld (Palm OS, as opposed to Windows or Pocket PC), and it must be written to support the hardware inside your handheld. Palm handhelds and smartphones have evolved over the years, and so have their “guts”. Earlier models ran on Motorola DragonBall microprocessors, and shipped with Palm OS versions from 1.0 to 4.1. Newer units are based on ARM processors, and run Palm OS versions 5.0 and up. Normally, such a drastic change in processors would mean that all software written for older units would not run on newer units. Palm, however, wasn’t going to obsolete the nearly 20,000 software programs available for Palm handhelds.

PACE was Palm’s solution for running older software on newer handhelds; the Palm Application Compatibility Environment. PACE basically “translates” the older software’s instructions into something the new processor can understand, and vice versa. Older software that “follows the rules” will generally run on newer devices. If it did “sneaky things under the hood”, then likely it won’t work. I moved several applications I used on my older Palm OS 3.5 units to newer ARM-based OS 5 units without problems. There are always exceptions to the rules, so it’s best to check and make sure that the program you want to use/buy is compatible with your device.

These buzzwords really become issues when you either buy new stuff for older handhelds, or you want to take a handheld beyond what initially came in-the-box. When you are shopping for new stuff for older devices, consider getting things that can move with you as time and techology progresses. The palm Infrared Keyboard is a perfect example of this. I had bought a Palm IIIx a while back, and later bought a folding keyboard for it. When I upgraded first to a TRGPro, and later a Handera 330, I was still able to use that keyboard, because all three devices used the Palm III HotSync connector. When I later upgraded to a Tungsten T, I was out of luck; the Universal Connector was the new standard, and the keyboard was incompatible with it. The Universal Connector has now been replaced by the Athena connector, which is not compatible. The Treo line, up to the 600, use their own type of connector, which isn’t compatible with the others. So, when it came time to buy a keyboard to use with my current handhelds (Treo 600 and Tungsten T), the choice was obvious; the Palm Infrared Wireless Keyboard would work with both my current devices, as well as any future ones.

Now that we’ve talked about some of the “techo-babble”, let’s start talking about using it. Next week we’ll talk about things we can do “out-of-the-box”.

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