What is a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA)?
Most PDAs can display an appointment calendar, to-do list, and notes program. Several can also play music and record voice memos. Many allow you to enter data with a penlike stylus or through an onscreen keyboard. Some can even convert handwriting into typed text.
Some PDAs permit you to access e-mail and the Internet, though this requires a monthly fee or connection-time charge. Some can be linked to digital mobile telephones or pagers for wireless telephony.
A PDA is a small handheld computer that has more functionality than a calculator and can store information much like a personal computer (PC). It can also be synchronized with a desktop PC to share information instantly. It is often used to store contact information, calendar, notes and tasks. It can also include a clock and an alarm.
A PDA has a touchscreen display and includes handwriting recognition software, which allows users to write letters or words on the screen using a stylus. Some have voice recognition software, which translates spoken words into text. Several manufacturers offer products that combine PDA functions with a mobile phone or MP3 player, such as the BlackBerry from Research in Motion.
PDAs can be useful for students and health care professionals. One study found that nurses who used a PDA reported that they learned about medical developments sooner than those without a PDA. Moreover, students using a PDA in clinical settings found it easy to use and improved their learning.
Personal digital assistant
Many PDAs synchronize with desktop computer programs via a docking port, infrared or modem connection. Some run on a proprietary operating system (such as 3Com’s Palm OS), and about 7500 developers produce software for these devices. Some PDAs incorporate multimedia features and are also equipped with a digital camera or MP3 player.
Users input data on a PDA’s screen using either a light pen or a small, portable keyboard. Most PDAs convert handwritten characters into type onscreen; the process can be slow, though, and text recognition is not always 100 percent accurate.
Several studies have found that use of PDAs by medical staff and students saves time and enhances patient care. However, some studies indicate that a lack of specially created PDA programs in many health care specialties may limit the usefulness of these devices in certain situations.
Originally, PDAs were digital improvements of traditional pen-and-paper organizers that stored telephone numbers and memos. They were incompatible and often difficult to use, but as computer technology improved, manufacturers began adding features to their devices. The most successful of these was the Palm Pilot, which offered an electronic calendar, an address book, a memo pad, expense-tracking software, and handwritten character recognition using a block alphabet. Its success encouraged many established consumer electronics firms to enter the market and led to the development of a variety of new applications for these small devices.
Most of the middle PDAs have a keyboard for entering data, and some use touch screens that can be touched with either fingers or styluses. Most also accept flash memory cards to increase their storage capacity. They can connect to personal computers and other PDAs for synchronization and exchange of data. In addition, some have built-in mobile phones and can connect to the Internet for e-mail and Web browsing.
PDAs allow users to store information for later review. They are used by a variety of people, including businesspeople, medical professionals, and students. Using a PDA can save time and reduce error. For example, in a study, physicians using PDAs to record patient data saw fewer mistakes when prescribing pharmaceutical drugs than those who did not use them.
PDA devices often come with an electronic keyboard. Some can also be accessed with a stylus or a touch-sensitive screen. Those that run on the Palm OS utilize the Graffiti system to recognize handwriting patterns and translate them into typed characters. Other PDAs are equipped with speech recognition, and can convert handwriting to text via a microphone.
Some PDAs are rugged, and can withstand inclement weather, jolts, and moisture. These devices are often referred to as enterprise digital assistants (EDAs). They can be equipped with barcode readers, radio-frequency identification (RFID) readers, and magnetic stripe card readers. These are used by businesses and government agencies to track inventory or items.