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    The Medical Palm Review

    September, 2006 (V7N8) - The Wave of the Future

    Once there was a PDA that seemed poised to conquer the world. Then it vanished. That was the Apple Newton. But its fate has some interesting lessons for Palm devices.

    Whither the PDA?

    Apple created the Newton in the early 1990s. It had remarkable features like a touch screen, handwriting recognition, and PCMCIA expansion slots. After the initial excitement wore off, critics griped about its bulky size, high price, and poor handwriting recognition (in the early models). The negative buzz overwhelmed the remarkable achievement of a device small enough to hold in one hand and which had remarkable innovative abilities. After six years of poor sales, Apple pulled the plug.

    The Palm PDA was created by former Apple employees and came onto the market within a year or two of the Newton's demise. Even though the early Palm Pilot was a far more limited device than the Newton, it had basic personal information management software tools and would fit in a shirt pocket. And that was enough.

    Until lately. Like the Newton before it, the Palm is suffering from negative buzz. Lack of connectivity to the web, or cellular phone grids, or to Windows PC software are all perceived to be major problems in some circles. The excitement now is all in networking or mobile telephony, rather than standalone computing. But that is not the only problem.

    Take my daughter (please). She is entering adolescence and wants gizmos. I offered her one of my PDAs for school. She politely took a look and noted its ability to help with her agenda, and to keep track of her friends' phone numbers.

    But she has made it clear that she prefers a cell phone to a Treo. Not just any phone either. She wants a Motorola v360. It plays music files. It has a camera, a slot for a data card, and even shoots video. However it also has a calendar function, a task list applet and other built-in software. Furthermore one can get a kit with desktop software and a USB cable that allows you to synchronize these data with a PC. At C$80 the USB cable apparently costs more than the phone, which is free with a three year sign-up to local cellular service providers. That tells you something about the mindset of the mobile telephone operators who sell these devices.

    The v360 is not even the latest model in Motorola's lineup yet it has most of the functionality of my Palm Treo 650 and at a fraction of the price. In my daughter's eyes the sleek and snazzy appearance of the v360 trumps a clunky PDA, no matter that the software on the PDA is better and more integrated with the PC that she hardly ever uses. She wants a phone that makes a fashion statement and has all the bells and whistles.

    And those extra features are growing ever fancier. Cell phones which use Symbian OS can download applications from the Internet. This expansion of roles has only added fuel to the explosive spread of mobile telephone devices. A cell phone that can run a version of iSilo or other document reader would be able to support much of the huge library of medical reference texts available for Palm devices. I think more developers are going to recompile their software for Symbian as they reclines the much greater market potential.

    In an attempt to fight back, PalmSource has announced Blackberry Connect to let Treo 650 PDAs muscle in on the enterprise e-mail market (you can register for the online information session to be held on September 7). There are rumours of a version of the Palm OS to run on Linux-based mobile phones. Even if successful (and the Linux product is still vaporware) this might leave Palm as a software shell on various cell phones.

    I started out with a Palm device before I ever got a cell phone because I wanted mobile computing power not mobile communications, let alone music or a digital camera. I only acquired a PDA with telephone capability much later. But most people start out wanting a cell phone first and want complementary media features like cameras and music players. Few of them will ever want to run a database or text reference on the road.

    Fortunately I can still justify my expensive PDA because it runs numerous programs like medical reference texts and medication calculators which are not yet found on cell phones, although RIM Blackberries are starting to catch up. Well, I wonder how much longer it will be before Symbian cell phones can match that too?

    Squeezed by Windows mobile PCs at the top end, and by Linux and Symbian phones at the low-cost end, Palm is struggling to compete and risks becoming redundant in all but a few niche markets. As with the Newton, the combination of price, feature mix, and style may sink Palm, in favour of the Next New Thing.

    Medical "Doc" of the Month

    MeisterMed has added new material to its website. Among other new products are breast feeding and fetal heart rate monitoring guides and iSilo documents about maternity care, influenza, and anaesthesia. I checked out the Family Medicine and Maternity Guide and was impressed. Many of these products are freeware. Definitely worth a close look.

    Medical Computing

    The Medical Piloteer Webring links to sites about medical use of PDAs. You can browse here or jump randomly from site to site. Either way there is lots to see and learn.

    The University of Connecticut library maintains an outstanding site with an extensive list of medical resources, databases and software.

    Nuts and Bolts

    Skype is all the rage for long distance telephone calls from your PC (VOIP). There are now a few strategies to access the Skype system by linking a PDA to your Skype account on a desktop PC.

    EQO Mobile software enables Skype phone calls from a smartphone. The Vosky Call Centre is a hardware device that enables Skype calls from mobile or fixed line telephones.

    The Slingbox is another device for relaying data. Instead of telephone calls, the Slingbox relays shows from your TV over the Internet. Only one device can receive the data stream at a time so this wouldn't let you "broadcast" a lecture or video to a group of students but it could be effective for telemedicine consulting. More typically, if your PDA has wireless networking or a dial-up link to the Internet then you can watch your favourite TV shows

    Another telephony product for the Treo is Palm's Bluetooth headset. The nice touch here is that it can be recharged using the same AC adapter as the Treo itself.

    Hack of the Month

    Contact List Birthday Reminders. Nice feature. Pity about the Part of Contact List entry showing birthday reminder fieldsimplementation. Contact listings have a field to note birthdays, which will show up as untimed appointments in the Calendar.. You can set a flag to alert you a number of days in advance of a birthday every year. Sounds like a good idea? Regrettably, in practice this means that the screen lights up and the alarm rings at midnight of the chosen reminder date. Why not 0900h instead? This is pretty lame if you are not planning to wake up the poor sap with a birthday phone call at that ungodly hour. Or if you like to go to bed before midnight yourself.

    Even more pathetic things happen if the reminder is set for a date in the calendar year before the birthday (e.g. an alarm five days before a birthday on Jan 02, 2007 will supposedly go off on midnight Dec 28, 2006). The PDA is likely to keep turning itself back on no matter how many times you switch it off after the alarm goes off.

    And, if you are a Treo user, guess what happens if you delete a birthday reminder in the Calendar (instead of unchecking the reminder in the Contact List)? Apparently this deletes the entire contact from the list, not just the reminder. Just because I don't want to be wakened at midnight to remind me about a birthday does not mean that I want the offending name and phone numbers removed from my Contact List. Why hasn't this been fixed?

    The PalmOne Support Knowledge Library reference noted above has some suggestions how to cope with all this. I have a suggestion too: these are bugs, Palm, so please fix them. Meanwhile, Treo users might be better served to create a recurring appointment or task to remind them of birthdays, although these would not be linked to the Contact List.

    On the positive side, the PalmOne Support Knowledge Library is a good place to browse from time to time. Solutions to what bugs you are often available. And, if there is no solution, there may at least be commiseration.

    In Times to Come

    I've got the flu, and feel completely knackered. So let's call it quits right here. No doubt there will be more news and tips to share but right now I am not sure what they will be.

    Until next time then, gentle reader, sneeze.. ah, enjoy!

    This is one of a continuing series of newsletters about Palm handheld computers, prepared for doctors, nurses, IT professionals, educators and other people who need tools that work. The Review is published monthly on our web site. Subscription is free; the principal benefit is receiving e-mail notification of new issues.

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