Most PDAs are not powerful enough to replace standard computers. Nearly all PDA owners use a desktop or notebook computer in conjunction with their personal digital assistant. Thus, it would seem logical to establish a simple method for sharing information between the PDA and a host computer. However, was not an issue developers took seriously.
Early devices were often designed with connectivity as an afterthought. Data exchange software was an optional add-on which came with its own high price tag. Worse still, the machines utilized proprietary hardware interfaces. And, more money was need to buy the correct equipment and cables. Thus, users were often left stranded with vital information in their PDAs which was completely out of sync with the work they did on their regular computers.
Not until the release of the Pilot did connectivity finally become a major focus of PDAs. This device introduced the idea of a cradle which was reminiscent of the docking station for a laptop. Users placed the Pilot into this cradle which was connected to the host computer. Then, with a touch of a single button, all the information between the PDA and the host was synchronized and updated. It is vital that this data transfer model be copied by all PDAs. Two early imitators are the Cassiopeia and Newton 2000.
Connectivity goes beyond local information exchange. Developers also need to concentrate on data transfer through an established global network- the Internet. Currently, the public bubbling with buzzwords like words like WWW, e-mail, and Java. This atmosphere creates an opportunity for PDAs to go mainstream by associating themselves with the Internet. Many developers have already realized this. The Newton 2000 and Cassiopeia both come with a suite of Internet software. And, the PC110 has a built-in modem. Perhaps the most interesting Internet PDA is one being developed by Corel Inc. This device runs on a barebones Java-based operating system. This lets users connect to the Internet and work off of download Java applications.
The Internet provides PDAs with the communications infrastructure which could push these device into mass market. With wireless modems, PDAs can provide users with more portable connectivity than a pager or cellular phone ever could. However, there are vast problems with merging the Internet and PDAs. These include formatting HTML to comfortably fit pages into small, low resolution displays. Contents and navigation would also need to be condensed because of screen and speed limitations. In addition, wireless technology needs to be made faster, cheaper, and more secure before mainstream acceptance.
Very soon, desktop synchronization will become standard on all PDAs, solving the problem of local information transfer. However, problems with Internet connectivity are much more involved and technologically challenging. It will take several years to slowly iron out these dilemmas. And at that point, PDAs will gain a whole new life and function. They will become low cost yet highly portable dispensers of data, relegating complicated computing tasks to more powerful servers. PDAs will pave the way to a ubiquitous mobile information network.