Building the perfect PDA: How I'd do it

commentary OK, there's no such as the perfect PDA--we all have our own sets of requirements, and no single device could fulfill them all. But here's what I'd like to see in my ideal handheld.

David Coursey, ZDNet US
commentary OK, there's no such as the perfect PDA--we all have our own sets of requirements, and no single device could fulfill them all. But here's what I'd like to see in my ideal handheld.

Suppose you were creating the perfect personal digital assistant. What features would it have? You could go in many directions--and so many vendors already have.

I've used all the major generations of PDA, including Casio, Psion (still a favourite), the original Palm, the original Pocket PC, the Apple Newton (later versions of which actually worked pretty well), and a bunch of other devices up to the present--and none of them was what I'd call perfect.

Sometimes, what I really want is a successor to the Tandy Model 100 (incidentally, the last machine Bill Gates actually wrote code for). Or the instant-on HP OmniBook 600C subnote, still one of my all-time favourite machines, which had its software baked into ROM--hard to upgrade, but instant on was nice.

But neither was really a PDA. Nor were the tablet-size PDA slates I've seen, nor the smallish devices with full-size keyboards intended to be used as instant-on, easier-to-use-than-a-notebook writing tools.

So what would the perfect PDA include?

I'm becoming a bit of an agnostic when it comes to operating systems. I still prefer Pocket PC to Palm, but with the improvements in Palm OS, I don't consider a non-Microsoft OS to be the disadvantage it used to be. I'm even open to Linux, but the Linux-based PDAs I've seen thus far have been more Linux than PDA--fine for supergeeks, awful for normal people.

It used to be I thought I needed a colour screen, but those are pretty much standard now, at least on higher-end units. Memory issues have been solved by less-expensive SD and other cards.

Better wireless would help. Bluetooth remains missing in action as far as I'm concerned. Maybe, maybe, someday, it will live up to its promises. Wi-FI--either 802.11b or 802.11g--is a winner and a must-have feature for my perfect PDA. I'd also like to see an easy transition to some sort of wireless WAN when I leave the cozy confines of a Wi-Fi hot spot. Of course, this connectivity should come at a "popular" price.

My perfect PDA does not have voice capability, though yours may. It's less that I'm opposed to making voice calls if I need to and more that I oppose the notion that a PDA should be used as one's primary voice device. Again, make it cheap to have lots of devices and cellular lines, and people will buy the technology. I'd also like to have a single mobile number ring several devices, just like extensions on a hardwired system.

It might be interesting to give it the news/weather/sports/messaging capabilities of Microsoft's SPOT devices, or at least a connection to a paging network. I also want an FM radio tuner, which would be a part of the SPOT package.

I'd like better links to desktop e-mail than I've seen so far. Microsoft is working furiously on this, but we really need primo spam filtering to make a handheld a useful e-mail platform. My strategy is to use a separate address for wireless e-mail, but I really shouldn't have to. Microsoft used to show some artificial intelligence-like technology for deciding what e-mail to forward to a wireless device. I'd like to see that be part of Outlook and every Exchange e-mail account.

I require GPS capability, and I'm a big fan of location-based services. I'd like the PDA to mimic the features of the Magellan RoadMate I've been playing with so that I'd get turn-by-turn voice directions. That would require some decent speakers, but they'd also be useful with the MP3 player and FM tuner capabilities.

Add a GPS to a phone, and my PDA could be OnStar-enabled. I'm not sure what that does besides give me a panic button and someone to help with directions or to unlock my briefcase. But suppose I have some sort of biotelemetry device that would tell someone to come running in case of a blood-sugar or cardiac problem. Of course, what you'd really like to do is connect the sensors to the PDA via some sort of personal area wireless network. Bluetooth would seem to be idea for this, but I won't change my breathing pattern while I wait.

While I'm dreaming, I want my PDA to be monitoring NOAA WeatherRadio for storm alerts. No, I don't require a TV tuner or, for that matter, a shortwave or ham radio. But an XM Satellite receiver would be nice.

I'm not looking for handwriting recognition, because I think speech is a more important user interface for handhelds. And I don't need my PDA to be a camera.

Those are a few of my ideas for a perfect PDA. There are lots of areas, features, and functions I haven't even touched. But at least these are some hot buttons--and hot fantasies--for me.

What would you put in your perfect PDA? TalkBack to me below!