Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

Break out of the box…

Posted by Michael Brown on September 13, 2005

Surveys of people using handhelds, and my own experiences with colleagues and clients, show that most handheld users aren’t aware that their PDA can do anything more than what software shipped in the box. Many users don’t even realize that there is additional software on the included CD-ROM; they simply use what’s built-in, like the PIM (Personal Information Management) applications. They simply use it as an electronic organizer, and most people don’t use it as such to it’s full potential. It’s not the end user’s fault; I find that Palm’s marketing is lacking when it comes to explaining what these devices are capable of doing. It’s up to folks like myself to educate people as to how these devices can set you free from your desk(top).

Most people think of handhelds as Personal Digital Assistants (PDA’s), and in most cases that is what they are marketed as. I tell my clients that they are handheld computers. I draw the distinction as being that a PDA is limited to what is built-in to the system. A handheld computer, like any other type of computer, can be customized through software to accomplish more tasks than initially configured. With handhelds, customization can also equal personalization. You can make the device look and work the way you want it to, just like any full size computer. There are over twenty thousand software titles for Palm Powered handhelds and smartphones, so you’re sure to find just what you need to accomplish work, personal, and hobby-related activities.

The first thing that you should be aware of is that you are NEVER limited to what comes in the box. The only possible limitations are the hardware itself, and the version of Operating System (OS) that your hardware is running. Certain software requires features in the OS that may only be present in a certain version of OS (or later). For example, the Universal Wireless Keyboard driver (a software program that allows a handheld to use the wireless keyboard) requires features that are only present in Palm OS version 5.2 or later. Installing the driver on my older Tungsten T with OS 5.0 isn’t supported by Palm (the company) because it requires some features that aren’t in the older OS. When you click on the Keyboard program icon in the launcher, it causes a soft reset on the handheld; so, even though I installed the program, I can’t change the settings on it because it causes the handheld to reboot when I try to access it. Hardware is the other real limiting factor, because it means that the handheld simply can’t do something because it physically isn’t possible. For example, I was able to install a voice recorder software program on my Treo 600 (which doesn’t come with one) because the hardware supports recording sound. I won’t be able to install a voice recorder on the Tungsten T5 or E2 because they don’t have a microphone or other related sound hardware. Other than those two limitations (OS and hardware), you’re pretty free to install programs and make your handheld work for you the way YOU want it to.

Let’s look at some possible examples. Let’s say you are a heavy user of Intuit’s Quicken or Microsoft’s Money; there are handheld versions of those programs that will sync with the one on your desktop. The handheld version would let you enter your transactions at the point in time that they occur, saving you time and data entry later. If you need a fancy engineering, financial, or graphing calculator, you can install one on your handheld instead of carrying a real calculator. If you’re a heavy user of Microsoft Outlook, Act, or some other contact management application, you can install conduits which will synchronize your handheld’s PIM apps with the desktop’s. In some cases, you can get replacement PIM apps for the handheld that more closely mimic the functionality of the desktop application. In fact, if you’re not happy with what came with the handheld, there are many applications out there that will either enhance or replace the built-in applications. For example, I have used a more advanced Calendar application on all my handhelds, since I found the built-in one to be too limited for my time-management needs. The particular one I use (DateBk5) works with the existing Calendar’s database, which means I can switch between the normal Calendar and DateBk5 without worries about corrupting my data. I can also take advantage of other handheld tools that work with the standard calendar, and the standard Outlook conduits that ship with the handheld. Talk about freedom of Choice!

There are also software packages that are specifically for Real Estate, Healthcare, Sales, and many other fields that can make you handheld work better for your particular profession. There are lots of choices of software out there; as I mentioned earlier, there are over 20,000 software packages for the Palm Platform. With that many software packages out there, the choices can be overwhelming; that’s another service we provide, to help refine our client’s choice down to something that will work for them. I know from my own experiences prior to starting Solutions At Hand, trying out software to see if it really meets your needs can get expensive, in both time and money! The beauty of the Palm Platform is that you do have a lot of freedom to personalize your handheld or smartphone to make it the most effective tool for YOUR life.

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