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    The Medical Palm Review

    June, 2004 (V5N6) - What, Still with the Wireless?

    The handheld computer world is full of surprises. This week had a doozy. It almost distracted me from fiddling around with wireless networking.

    Easy Come, Easy Go

    There was a time when many thought that Sony would buy PalmSource in order to stop paying license fees for the operating system in its popular Clié handhelds. This past week, however, Sony announced that it would cease marketing Clié handheld computers in North America and Europe. As one of the largest manufacturers of Palm PDAs (second only to PalmOne itself) this is quite a blow to the prospects of the Palm operating system.

    The decision to bail out of the PDA business in North America is revealing for several reasons. The Clié line will continue to be available (for now) in Japan and Asia, where Sony has enjoyed success with its low-end models. But its high end systems are mostly aimed at providing music and video to mobile devices. It rather looks as though Sony plans to replace those Cliés with newer devices that are hybrid game machines and video players. It all suggests that Sony sees its North American markets as being quite distinct from Asian ones.

    In North America low end Cliés will almost certainly end up being replaced by cell phones with organizer software. In fact, the increasing capability of cellular handsets in terms of multimedia (built-in cameras, play music files) and software (provide organizer functions, data storage) casts a long shadow over the PDA market in general and Sony in particular. Sony has been collaborating with phone-maker Ericsson for some time and looks to be about ready to bring new handsets to market.

    Ironically, this may not help the other major manufacturer of PDA operating software much. Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system will look like the strongest PDA player, but at a time when PDAs are being eclipsed by cell phones. Microsoft has not yet found a way to offer the
    PPC system in a cell phone. To many Palm users, Pocket PC is rather awkward and slow. This might be tolerable on a PDA, but it's a fatal defect on a cell phone. Still, this is Microsoft we're talking about. If they want a piece of the mobile market badly enough, they'll find a way to get it. One path: buy cell phone manufacturers and modify their software...

    PDAs may continue to sell well in two distinct markets. Large enterprises with a need for employees to carry around data input and lookup devices (with or without wireless connectivity) may find them practical. And health care workers at a large hospital would find it handy to have the formulary, policies info, and the ability to order lab tests all in their pocket. Consumers who want basic organizers and don't need a cell phone will also like a cheap-n-cheerful PDA. Hence Sony's decision to stay in the consumer market in Japan and Asia? New Zire handhelds sold extremely well this past quarter, apparently to many first time buyers (housewives, seniors and students).

    But phone companies give away handsets to new cellular customers. Can't get much cheaper than that. If the trend to use a cell phone instead of (rather than in addition to) a fixed line phone accelerates, then much of the consumer demand for PDAs evaporates. And few employed people or consumers who might be in the market for a PDA are not also using a cell phone. Most will prefer to carry one gizmo instead of two. For a look at handsets co-opting features of PDAs, check out the website of the World Handset Forum taking place 8-9 June in Amsterdam.

    Is there any good news for Palm these days? Well, there is still a decent chance that the Palm OS will find its way into cell phones, such as PalmOne's own Treo line. But even good news comes laced with pain for Palm. For example, Xerox recently lost its patent infringement case against Palm's Graffiti handwriting system. Despite investing seven years in pursuing this civil case, rumours are that Xerox will not appeal further as noone believes PalmOne has any money to settle anyway.

    Air Traffic Control

    Not content with mad schemes to connect my laptop and Sony Clié wirelessly (see last month's issue) I purchased a wireless router and hooked that up to my home network. With this device, my PDA can access the Internet when my laptop isn't turned on. Just in time for the three or four sunny days expected this summer, I can now peruse my e-mail while sitting anywhere in the house or in the garden. The Sony is so small that I can prop it on the kitchen table while having dinner. But I don't recommend that if your spouse, like mine, might be tempted to take a fork to the PDA (or you). The dog made a play for it too: apparently chew toys are an essential computing accessory for this home office worker.

    I decided to add my wireless router to an existing network, keeping the original router as the primary device. There are several good reasons to do this. Most important for me was not to have to completely reorganize the network configuration and printer ports. The wireless router only has to support the wireless devices. And that is the second handy reason to use this approach: when I don't want to work wirelessly, I switch the wireless router off. This secures my home office from wireless intruders, and reduces the amount of electromagnetic radiation in my home, in case the pundits are wrong about the health implications of my little computerized radio transmitters.

    Making multiple routers play nice together requires a few adjustments to their configuration. I recommend this article on the Tom's Hardware site for those contemplating such a setup.

    Medical "Doc" of the Month

    Pedi-Dose is a calculator program for pediatrics. It incorporates modules for resuscitation drugs, fluid intake, and burn area calculation. The layout is functional if a bit cluttered. The software is entirely free of charge.

    UTS Diabetes is for tracking your intake, insulin time activity and more. It has some useful features. There is a charting function to assist diabetics in visualizing how their intake pattern compares to the time course of the type of insulin they use. This is an interesting idea but I found the sample charts on the website difficult to interpret. I suspect many potential users would need some help familiarizing themselves.

    An alternative for calculating insulin dosage (or other medications) is Intelligent Dosing System. Among other features, this software can assist prescribers to switch from one drug to another, or calculate the next dose of a particular agent.

    Medical Computing

    The sixth Annual INET mini-conference on wireless health care takes place on June 29 in Toronto. This half-day event features several speakers describing their use of wireless technology to develop useful capabilities in their working environments. INET specializes in quickly rolling out such capabilities and building them incrementally - a strategy I happen to agree with. If you are in town you may want to register for this session.

    In Times to Come

    So, now that I have all this wireless gear, can I take my Clié down to the nearest espresso joint and check my e-mail over a latte? Are my files secure? Will all those electric fields and radio emissions cut my life short? Or will the coffee get to me first? Let's look at that in July.

    This is one of a continuing series of newsletters on Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals, educators and other people who need tools that work. Feel free to pass copies around electronically or on paper. To subscribe, or complain, contact the author at the following address:

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