Handheld Computers

Written by Sarah Provost
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Handheld computers, also known as PDAs (personal digital assistants), are a relatively recent addition to the ever-growing universe of personal technology. The Sharp Wizard, which debuted in 1989, was the earliest hand-held organizer to be widely distributed in the US. With measurements of 6 x 7 inches (open), 32 Kb of memory, and a black-and-white LCD display with a 16 x 40 capacity, it bore little resemblance to today's sophisticated instruments.

The major operating systems in handheld computers today are Palm OS, Pocket PC, BlackBerry and Linux. Palm and Pocket PC currently share about 80 percent of the market, but BlackBerry is coming on strong. As a whole, the market for PDAs is decreasing slightly, due to the emergence of phones that are capable of many of the same functions.

Popular Handheld Computers

The BlackBerry, which fits easily in your palm, has e-mail, text messaging, telephone and Web browsing capabilities. It navigates by means of a thumbwheel, and has an integrated keyboard designed for "thumbing." Because it has become so popular, and the ease of messaging is so addictive, this PDA has gained the nickname "CrackBerry."

Though new PDAs produced by the Palm company do not use the name "Pilot" because of a name infringement suit, the early handheld was so popular that "Palm Pilot" has become almost a generic name for PDAs. The hp iPAQ Pocket PC is another popular product, with memory up to 128 Mb. It runs on the Microsoft operating system. Sony, Dell and Nokia also make PDAs and have a significant market share.

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