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The "write" electronic tool.

Have you got room in your briefcase for yet another electronic product claiming to make your life easier and your work habits more efficient? If so, clear some space for a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA).

PDAs are the latest members of a group of transportable products, including pagers, portable computers, pocket phones and electronic organizers, comprising the ever-expanding high-tech "mobile" office.

A PDA is a combo computer and electronic organizer enabling harried executives to record their most spontaneous thoughts and then send them to colleagues from anywhere in the world.

Right now, three main PDAs are cornering the market: the Newton from Apple Computer Inc. in Cupertino, Calif.; Zoomer from Casio Dover, NJ; and AT&T's EO Personal Communicator, (which is being jointly marketed by EO Inc. of Mountain View, Calif., AT&T and Japan's Matsushita and Marubeni).

Unit sales of PDAs should reach 65,000 this year, according to Norwell, Mass.-based market research firm BIS Strategic Decisions. "Nobody needs a PDA, but everyone needs to communicate, coordinate, schedule and keep up-to-date," says Bill Ablondi, Bis' vice presidentof Personal Computing Market Advisory Service. "And we all have our own means for doing all those things."

PDAs, like pocket organizers, track appointments, contain addresses and record notes. As with palmtops and notebook computers, they let you send and receive faxes. And you have various software programs at your pen tip - from word processing to spreadsheets to personal finance programs.

So, what really sets PDAs apart from Sharp Wizards and Apple PowerBooks? The difference is that you control all functions by tapping or writing on the screen using an electronic pen.

Depending on handwriting and the nature of the message, POAs can understand what has been written and then transmit that information into crisp electronic text characters and diagrams.

Hand writing recognition is nothing new, of course. Such capabilities have been around for nearly 20 years. But it's been only recently that software developers have improved the technology to make it much more accurate.

Already, there are pen-based PCs in the market and even the latest Wizard boasts pen input. With Sharp's OZ-9600, you still have a keyboard, and the writing stylus is an option.

On the other hand, PDAa are strictly pen-based, and their appeal, as touted by manufacturers, is simple: You don't have to be a computer maven to use one. Everything is done the natural way - by writing. You can also store what you have written, rewrite it or electronically integrate it with other notes, sketches or drawings. Some PDAs even clean up your work.

Then there's the flexibility of faxing your notes, dumping them into an e-mail or moderning them to another PDA or computer. This can be taken care of anywhere, and at any time, without the hassle of finding a phone jack. You can also link up to such online data services as CompuServe and Prodigy.

PDAs offer great promise, but they're still green in the market. So, first-time buyers may face some bugs. Even though manufacturers talked up PDAs last year, release dates kept getting pushed back for one reason or another. At the same time, industry analysts are unsure whether PDAs will ever live up to their advance hype. As far as looks go, the Apple Newton, Casio Zoomer and AT&T EO Personal Communicator pretty much resemble one another; they are plastic boxes, roughly the size of a paperback, a third of which is an LCD screen.

The Apple Newton, listing for around $1,000, is the offspring of a marriage between Apple Computer and Sharp Electronics. Newton includes an advanced appointment book. For example, if you were to simply write "lunch with client Friday," Newton would scan itself to see if any prior appointments were scheduled that day. Then it would check to see what time you normally have lunch appointments and how long they usually last. Finally, it would find a time slot, and present the information on-screen for your approval. Billed as an "intelligent assistant," Newton is a fanatical organizer of details. You can write and store ideas from a meeting, a map with directions to a friend's house or reminders of things to do - anything that you would normally scribble on a piece of paper.

As for those who flunked penmanship in school? Luckily for them, Newton can recognize even the most atrocious handwriting. It even tracks your writing habits so it can respond to vaguely written instructions. The way you organize information is also easier. After you've jotted down some notes, you simply tap an icon with the pen tip and Newton will type it up. Or you can draw some sketchy diagrams, which Newton will then transform into neat graphs and charts.

Let's say you want to send what you've done to a colleague (named James, for example). Newton organizes all the data into a perfectly formatted business letter and writes "Fax James" on the screen. Then Newton looks up James' fax number in the address book, creates a cover sheet and places the fax in its electronic out box. Plug Newton's modern into a phone jack and it will fax the letter. An infrared transmitter lets one Newton talk to another, so you'll have to plug the unit into a phone jack to let it talk to the outside world.

On the other hand, the AT&T EO Personal Communicator has fully-integrated communications devices that sets ft apart from other PDAs. Although EO's two key models - the 2.2 lb. EO 440 and 4-lb. EO 880 - off er about the same features as the Newton, they also pack a cellular phone and a 14,400 bps data modern. Each unit is also loaded with AT&T Mail, an electronic mailbox with an 800 number that hooks users into worldwide e-mail services and on-line databases.

You'll pay dearly for this high-end technology, since it jacks up the price of the Personal Communicator to roughly twice that of the Newton. Starting price for the EO models is around $2,000.

Set to debut this month is the Casio XL-7000 Zoomer, which the Japanese electronics manufacturer is building in conjuncton with Tandy Corp. of FortWorth,texas. The smallest and lightest PDA (weighing in at a pound), the Zoomer has more of an electronic agenda than Newton or the Personal Communicator.

Retailing for $899.95, the Zoomer is packed with goodies, including a date book, address book, notebook, to-do list, calculator, dictionary, thesaurus, world time clock, translation dictionary for 26 languages and such almanac-type information as U.S. holidays, international city telephone codes, birthstones and Zodiac signs.

Better yet: each Zoomer is loaded with Intuit's Pocket Quicken, a version of the popular personal finance software, which tracks checking, credit card and cash accounts. An RS-232 serial port allows you to add an external modern.

Although its recognition capabilities are not as refined as the Newton's, the Zoomer can still convert indecipherable handwriting into electronic characters. Though not quite a replica of a pen PC, the Zoomer also has an on-screen keyboard. You can type notes by touching the appropriate keys with the pen tip, while you can write in or type important dates with the appointment calendar.

Apple, EO and Casio each promise that the initial features included with their PDAs are just the beginning. PDAs will become even more powerful with enhancements in communications equipment and software.

Whether you add a PDA to your list of portable devices depends on how much gear you really need for doing business from afar. For some executives, one high-tech gadget is all they need to stay in touch with their staff - sending faxes, memos and voice messages back and forth. For now, if s probably best to sit out the PDA craze while computer junkies do their first round of testing. Then, in a few months, you can hit the stores to see if PDAs live up to their hype.


Beep this. Did you know you can get headline news, the latest business developments, stock quotes, sports scores, voice mail and 21 pages of information (when used with a portable computer) - all from a pager?

"Pagers have changed dramatically from the little black box of yesteryear," says Thomas A. Stroup, president of Telocator, an industry trade organization in Washington, DC. That's for sure. Today's "beepers" come in spiffy neon colors, and offer businesses a wide range of sophisticated services and options.

Pagers help professionals perform more efficiently by offering news updates and financial reports. For example, one lawyer was able to use his pager to get up-to-date information on his clients while he was in court.

Increasingly, more folks are using pagers to streamline communications - 79% of them business people.

Since 1980, the pager industry has shot up 30% with 15.3 million units in use throughout the United States, according to the Paging Services Council, the consumer information arm of Telocator. That number could top 50 million over the next seven years.

Pagers come in four basic flavors: numeric (numbers only, up to 20 digits), alphanumeric (numbers and messages up to 80 characters long), tone and voice (tone alert and message in caller's own voice), and tone-only (beep for no more than two different numbers).

Much like Ma Bell and her Baby Bells, most paging companies offer services on a monthly basis. Prices differ depending on the type of service, coverage, and whether the user is a renter or owner. For free information on paging, write to: Paging Services Council, P.O. Box 32229, Washington, DC 20007.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Earl G. Graves Publishing Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:personal digital assistants, pocket telecomputers
Author:Leiberman, Gregg
Publication:Black Enterprise
Article Type:Evaluation
Date:Oct 1, 1993
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