PDA, short for Personal Digital Assistant is a handheld device that combines functionalities of computing, telephone, fax, Internet and networking features. PDAs are designed to function as a phone, fax sender, Web browser and even the personal organizer. Sometimes, they are also referred as a palmtop computer or pocket computer, which can function as a personal information manager.

PDA’s are similar to a computer that allows the user to collect and store the information such as contacts, appointments, files, programs and many more. The earlier PDA’s were limited only for storing addresses, contact details, calendar appointments and task lists but the modern PDAs offer much more functionalities than these. They can also be used as a cell phone and fax, provide Internet connectivity, and much more.

Types of PDAs

There are two major types of PDAs that fall into hand-held computers and palm-sized computers. The main differences between the two are size, display and mode of data entry.

  • Palm-sized computers: These are smaller and lighter PDAs. They have smaller LCDs and works on stylus / touch-screen technology and handwriting recognition programs for data entry.
  • Hand-held computers: These PDAs are quite larger and heavier than the palm-sized PDAs. They have larger liquid crystal displays (LCD) and use a small keyboard, usually in combination with touch-screen technology, for data entry.

Uses of PDAs

Initially most of the PDAs were introduced as pen-based that use stylus for input instead of keyboard. They even offer features of handwriting recognition and are also incorporated with voice recognition technologies to react to the voice input. Many PDAs can even function like a mini-computer that have built-in abilities to take notes, keep records, write letters, perform spreadsheet functions, connect to internet and many more.

Some of the PDAs come with built-in global positioning system (GPS) features can be used to find a location or get the driving directions also. In addition, it provides other networking capabilities like downloading and uploading data. Also, the user can synchronize their data with data in a desktop computer, this enhance the PDA's usefulness even further.

Typical Features of PDAs

Touch Screen: Many of the original PDAs are featured with touchscreen for user interaction. To provide inputs to these PDAs, a virtual keyboard, handwriting recognition techniques or sometimes external keyboards are used.

Memory cards: In order to store the user data, it uses external devices like memory cards, microSD cads or CF cards.

Wired connectivity: PDAs can be connected to a user's personal computer via serial ports or another proprietary connection; nowadays even USB cable can be used.

Synchronization: User can synchronize their PDA data with the applications on a user's computer. With this feature the user can update contacts, schedule, or other information on their computer.

Operating system used in PDAs

  • Most commonly used OS on PDAs: Palm OS, Microsoft Windows Mobile (Pocket PC) with a Windows CE kernel, Android, iOS, WebOS.
  • Other, rarely used operating systems: EPOC, then Symbian OS, Linux, Newton, QNX.
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