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PDA research points to new look

Research finds that conventional wisdom on palm devices may be wrong

Firms rolling out handheld computing services should brace for changes in designs that could affect usage patterns.

In a two-year study funded by the Economic & Social Research Council, author Jonathan Allen of the Purdue University in Indiana says conventional wisdom on what goes to make a successful personal digital assistant (PDA) is wrong. That could make platform choices today tough.

In the early days of PDAs, definitions constantly changed, Allen notes. Manufacturers such as Apple built in speech and handwriting recognition, leading to bulky, unreliable systems. However, as Allen notes, the Palm device did not follow any expectations of what was needed and yet succeeded, partly because one company defined an overall approach to operating system, hardware and applications.

That history lesson suggests that the new generation of wireless appliances could yet face a rocky future as suppliers move design goalposts.

"If you have a corporate regimen, you need to be careful and aware of the much higher risk that developments such as wireless communications can bring," said Allen. "Pilot rollouts by all means but be aware of what's happened in the history of handhelds. Palm is in the driving seat and has a large amount of developer support but for Microsoft it's hard to keep a commonality of interest if you're always changing."

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