Monday, 30 June 2008

The end of the PDA

I first got a Sony Clie - which in 2003 was a Big Deal. Everyone had a PDA. If you went to a meeting, people pulled them out and coordinated their meetings - beaming their details where once they would have swapped cards. One keener had a little kid's lunch box in which he kept his fold out keyboard, and he plugged that in to his Palm and started tapping away at every meeting. The first one got lifted from my pocket in Green Bay WI, and was promptly replaced - and of course the new one was even better. But Sony could not stand the pace of competition and pulled out of the North American market - so when the second one fell from a table on a train - face down onto a metal bracket, cracking the screen (Nottingham May 2006) it could not be replaced like for like so I got a Palm Tungsten - mainly because it came with a hard metal case. I even got the fold out keyboard, but I must confess I did not use it very much. And I tried wireless network cards in its expansion slot, but they never worked very well. (And anyway most places now use 8012.11G: Palm doesn't.) And the screen is far too small for most web pages not optimised for a PDA. There are some very useful applications - maps and passwords being the most useful - Freecell the one most used, I confess.

But the hard metal case is not all metal and the critical bits are in a type of plastic that gets brittle with age. So two years on and the case is literally falling apart. The metal body is fine of course. But tiny bits of the critical hinges have come off.

Retailers no longer have displays of PDAs like they once did. London Drugs has a few in a back room - and even fewer accessories. BestBuy has one PDA. And Staples has a few - but no accessories at all other than those which could also be used with a GPS or similar box.

What really gets up my nose is that Palm still sell the case - but twenty dollars extra here compared to the US, even though the dollar is at par. And you have to order through the Canadian site even though I am sure it uses the US inventory and database. And with shipping the cost comes to a cool $80 - compared to an advertised US price of just under $40.

The death of the PDA is because phones have become smarter. Once you have a Blackberry or an iPhone a PDA seems quaint. And it is not the utility that matters - it is being at the leading edge.

I had a similar experience back in the 1980s with the Microwriter - which had a really neat 5 finger keyboard - the only one I have ever mastered for touch typing. Sadly the UK company that made it never survived the head to head with Sharp. But it was a lot easier to learn than Graffiti - and you never needed to go hunting for a store with the right size of stylus (a whole lunch hour in Calgary, July 2005 was wasted on that). You can still buy the 5 finger keyboard from CyKey

I am not yet ready to give up my PDA. It is easier to use on a plane than my EeePC - and its battery lasts longer. Its cards switch with the EeePC and my camera too. I suppose one day I will have camera, PDA and phone all in one. But just for now I will buy another case. Familiarity being a comfort. But I do not expect to find anything more in a real store and I am going to boycott Palm's on line store and hang around EBay or Craig's list if I need any other bits and pieces before then

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