Superpowered PDAs Challenge the Laptop Platform

Today’s PDAs are getting more and more powerful. But will superpowered PDAs eventually lead to the death of laptop computers? That’s highly unlikely, at least according to many tech users who use both PDAs and laptops regularly. TechNewsWorld interviewed several people in the industry to get a feel for where the mobile computing marketplace is headed.

Anthony Perez, president at techKNOW-HOW, an IT consultancy, told TechNewsWorld that there are several areas in which the current crop of PDAs is still weak. For starters, he said that wireless connections for PDAs are still generally slow. Also, viewing Web pages is difficult because of the small screen.

“Anyone who has tried to view Web pages on a PDA will tell you that the experience is poor at best,” Perez told TechNewsWorld. “The laptop can be replaced on short trips by PDA-phone combos; still, it is very difficult to do complex work on [a PDA].”

The bottom line, said Perez, is that the laptop, with its myriad configuration options and ease of use, will be here “for quite some time.”

Advances in Mobile Computing

Wayne Fleming, services sales director at Optimus Solutions, an IT solutions provider that specializes in mobile applications, said he expects to see advances in navigation accessories and better wireless capabilities for PDAs in the future. But even this will not kill the laptop.

“I think there will always be a need for laptops because of larger screen size, more accessories, larger memory, better graphics and better networking capabilities,” said Fleming.

PDA sales, however, eventually will surpass notebooks, just as notebooks have surpassed desktops, according to Mike McCandless, vice president of sales and marketing at Apricorn, which provides data storage and transfer products for mobile professionals.

“The reason notebook sales are surging past desktops is that notebooks now offer mobility in addition to comparable performance and competitive pricing. I think it’s impossible to make a computer that is too fast, too small, too affordable or too user friendly. Eventually, the line between notebooks and PDAs will become very fuzzy,” McCandless told TechNewsWorld.

It will be many years before PDAs can replace full-fledged computers, he added. “PDAs will have to grow in leaps and bounds in the core technologies, such as battery life, memory capacity and processor speeds, before they can even be considered a threat to notebooks.”

Opening Up New Markets

Neil Versen, senior director of AvantGo at iAnywhere Solutions, a provider of content for PDAs, agreed that PDAs will cut into the laptop market but will not be a laptop killer. “What we will see proliferating is more and more mobile form factors to meet a variety of needs,” said Versen.

He noted that PDAs have been opening up new markets. For example, doctors are finding PDAs useful because they can use the devices while making rounds. Plus, many road warriors are finding PDAs are convenient to carry around in the evening after work hours.

“It’s really all about meeting an individual’s needs, and everybody is different. You’ll see a lot more people connecting in real-time, both in and out of the office, through WiFi hotspots as they become more and more ubiquitous,” Versen told TechNewsWorld.

But PDAs will not replace the laptop, he concluded. “Photography didn’t kill painting. TV didn’t kill radio. PDAs will take over some of the functions of the laptop, but the laptop by definition will always have a larger screen and probably more processing power.”

Appeal to Different Users

Angelo Tomasello, director of healthcare solutions at Interactive Business Systems, an IT consultancy, told TechNewsWorld that both devices will continue to appeal to different kinds of users. For example, he predicted that laptops will be more business friendly and that PDAs will become more applicable for those who are looking for entertainment.

“Manufacturers will continue to try to make the devices more appealing to the true business user by getting creative on methods of entering information through the use of virtual keyboards, and they will continue to make the viewing area appear larger. In the end, however, it will remain a small device with all the limitations a small device has,” said Tomasello.

Brian Olson, director of marketing communications at Video Professor, a provider of tutorials, said that he envisions reasons for users to have a PDA, laptop and desktop. “There’s room on my desk and in my jacket pocket for one of each,” Olson told TechNewsWorld.

“PDA’s are awesome, but so are laptops and so are desktops,” said Olson. He added that based on the 5 million tutorials his firm has sold over the years and the 250,000 it ships every month, many people are running programs that still need a keyboard and laptop-size screen.

PDAs and Moore’s Law

George Marsh, who works at the University of Alabama’s Institute for Interactive Technology, summed up the general industry attitude toward PDAs by referring to Moore’s Law, which is a more or less accepted industry maxim that says computers will continually increase in power as they decrease in size. Marsh told TechNewsWorld that, from one perspective, PDAs are merely mobile computers and are only different from laptops in terms of size and cost.

“One thing that seems certain is that we will soon reach a level where computers are ubiquitous,” he told TechNewsWorld. “We might call this ‘ultra tech’ because of the infusion and suffusion of connectivity enabling people to be always on, always connected.”

Current research and development in miniaturization and in embedding computers in jewelry, clothing and eyewear, said Marsh, could even take us beyond both the PDA and the laptop. “Things have changed a lot since 1981, when the Osborne company sold the first portable computer, weighing 28 pounds.”

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