The Problem With PDAs Today

When I finally get around to writing up my impressions of the Pepper Pad, I’ll be pointing to Roger Sperberg’s recent posts at TeleRead about non-PDA handhelds and computers for stand up use. At the moment, however, some of his points remind my of a few I’ve got to make about PDAs here.

I’ve got a Sony Clie TH-55, the top of the line of the last series they imported to North American shores. It’s got a big bright screen (for PDAs), WiFi and a camera that can shoot movies and .3 megapixel stills. It’s got all of that and a battery that I’ve never had below 65% despite hard camera and WiFi use at times, but I still find it nearly useless.

(Some of) my complaints? The WiFi gets poor reception and requires a long wait while the radio warms up and finds a signal before each use. Unlike most laptops, the WiFi isn’t running all the time and it’s like waiting for a modem to dial while it connects. Then, when the WiFi does connect, the web browsing is slow and painful on a screen that still has too few pixels to render most sites reasonably. Though bookmarks help, entering URLs in Graffiti 2 is like pulling out all my eyebrow hairs one by one. The keyboard solves that, but it using requires a desk and going down that road begs for comparisons against the laptop I could be using instead.

Still, these problems might be fixable. I depended on the handwriting recognition on my Newton to take notes in classes and meetings back in the day (far better than on any Palm OS or HPC I’ve ever used), so I’m holding out for something better yet from current handhelds. My use cases are changing, though. PIM apps are on devices everywhere, but I really like using Earthcomber when traveling. I need a great web browser that can remember web-site passwords and auto-fill forms like my desktop browser can. And it’s hard to know what will replace iPods, but I somehow see a device like the LifeDrive, perhaps with a camera, that might do the job.

None of that, however, should suggest that I don’t also see a huge market for products like the Pepper Pad.