I recently attended Planet PDA
in Boston and discovered several new PDA-related products that will
enhance PDA's usefulness within the enterprise. I also made an important
observation: while interest is growing in deploying wireless
applications, many companies are still cautiously weighing the benefits
against the costs and complexities of implementation.
New software development tools for PDAs, micro-browsers on cell
phones, and BlackBerry devices are coming to market to address the need
for ease of deployment. Many of these development tools are
device-agnostic -- able to detect what type of device you are using
(Pocket PC, Palm, BlackBerry, WAP) and display information according to
the device's capabilities. These development tools help alleviate the
need for wireless gurus, consultants, or seasoned programmers to
customize and build wireless applications.
SYWARE, Inc. has a software
development tool called Visual CE. Visual CE lets you build database
applications for Windows CE devices -- you can simply drag and drop
controls such as radio buttons, drop-down lists, check boxes, buttons,
and more onto forms, and then link the fields to ODBC-enabled databases
such as MS Access, Lotus Approach, or Visual Basic to upload, download,
or update the data. A sample form is shown, right.
Orsus Solutions' Uno Studio
Another company offering a form-generation development tool for access
to back-end databases is Orsus Solutions,
with their Uno Studio product. Orsus provides connectors to a variety of
internal and external information sources including databases,
enterprise applications, Web services, and Internet and intranet sites.
Using the connectors, you can aggregate all the information and present
it to users on whatever device they are using, i.e. WAP-enabled cell
phone, PDA, etc. Uno Studio features a WYSIWYG interface that shows the
precise interface users will see. The Wireless Interface Builder allows
you to specify text strings, user navigation, and presentation on
whatever devices you need, via standard objects such as WML or HTML
cards. The Uno Studio also allows you to integrate location services
that pinpoint where users are so you can tailor information to their
precise needs at that place and moment.
not a development tool, E-Rex's
Dragonfly Handheld PC and Document Management Appliance (left) was an
interesting new product that I saw at the show. It's a new product that
debuted at Planet PDA and is certainly worth mentioning, due to its
unique convergence of different technologies. The Dragonfly allows you
to scan in color, send and receive faxes, retrieve and send data,
download and print in color or B&W, as well as scan and store
crucial information all from a stand-alone Windows CE unit about the
size of a laptop.
The Dragonfly can also attach to your laptop or PDA organizer and
features dual PCMCIA slots, serial, parallel, infrared ports, and a CD
Type II expansion slot. While this product is not for everyone, I
certainly envision vertical markets such as real estate and insurance
finding this product useful. For example, both real estate agents and
insurance claims adjusters could benefit from the ability to fax, scan,
and print documents while on the road without having to return to the
One problem with Pocket PCs is that they run a special version of
Windows called Windows CE that doesn't natively support Windows 95/98,
NT, 2000, or XP applications. Applications have to be written from
scratch or ported over from its sibling operating systems. Popular
applications such as Word and Excel have their own miniature versions on
Windows CE devices called Pocket Word and Pocket Excel that have a
vastly reduced feature-set from a desktop version of Office.
As I was walking the Planet PDA show floor I came across Tiquit's
booth with a computer monitor displaying the familiar Windows XP
background with Microsoft Word in the foreground. I almost passed by it
since I had little interest in seeing Microsoft Word running on Windows
XP. But something on the screen caught my eye: "Windows XP on a
Handheld". Hmmm. Does that mean what I think it means? I did a
quick U-turn and moseyed on back to the booth to see if indeed they were
demonstrating a full-version of Windows XP running on a handheld device.
enough, it was Tiqit's new handheld device called "eightythree"
(right) running a full-version of Windows XP (not Windows CE) on a
4" 640 x 480 TFT color display with a mini-QWERTY keyboard. Very
cool! It comes with a minimum of 128MB RAM, the same Toshiba hard drive
(10 Gig) as the iPod, and can even run full versions of UNIX or Linux.
It has more connectivity features than you can shake a stick at,
including an SD slot, full-size USB port, IrDA, docking capability,
headphones/mic, and more. It was pretty strange seeing a full-blown copy
of Windows in such a small footprint. Tiquit is not currently selling
the product to consumers, but they are looking for partners to help
bring the product to market.
Global Bay's AccessPoint
Global Bay's AccessPoint is a Web-based
content and forms authoring tool that enables enterprises to convert
paper-based forms into PDA-based forms. AccessPoint allows users to
author rich PDA content such as surveys, mobile/remote testing, work
orders, repair tickets, and feedback and doesn't require programming
expertise. AccessPoint works with both Palm and Windows CE-based
Thinking Bytes' ThinkDB
Thinking Bytes' ThinkDB
solution not only lets you create the forms but also the database as
well, supporting 21 field types, including text, numeric, and multiple
join fields. ThinkDB can be used to build custom applications on your
handheld and access important information when away from the office.
Currently, it is only supported on the Palm and includes ThinkDB dbSync
for ensuring an up-to-date database.
snap survey's snap 6
One final PDA development platform product is a product called snap 6
from snap survey software. The
snap 6 software is a WYSIWYG forms designer specifically for surveys.
Snap 6 allows you to design your questionnaire with a choice of fonts,
boxes, headings, graphics, etc. It includes five methods of publishing
questionnaires on the Web, or for distribution to potential respondents
as e-mail messages. It also includes PDA templates for distributing
surveys to PDA devices. The reporting is quite extensive and includes 2D
and 3D bar, pie, line, area, scatter, doughnut, Gantt, and hi-lo charts.
All in all, I was impressed with the breadth of PDA software development
platforms that I saw at Planet PDA. It is promising to see so many
products launched in the fairly nascent mobile enterprise industry,
especially with so many other industries pulling back on R&D and new
product launches. The future of PDAs within the enterprise has never
Tom Keating is the executive technology editor of TMC
Labs, and TMC's CTO. He welcomes your comments at Tom Keating .