How to take information with you no matter where you go

How to take information with you no matter where you go

Anderson, Steve

When you mention mobile computing, images of “road warriors generally come to mind-those business travelers who live their lives in airports, meetings and hotels. I’ve had the opportunity to experience this first-hand the last several months. Part of what I’ve learned is that technology now is available to allow anyone to work productively wherever there is a desk and a telephone line (and it’s getting better).

What effect will this have on an agency? As the ability to communicate between locations becomes better, and as the work force becomes more sophisticated, an agency will need to take advantage of this technology to remain competitive. You also will need to take advantage of this technology to retain and attract quality personnel.

We had the opportunity to attend a conference on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, Washington, where Microsoft laid out its vision for mobile computing. What follows are some highlights of where mobile computing is headed.

Several different parts will make up a full mobile computing platform.

Laptops

Laptops are at the top of the list of tools people generally think of when they’re discussing mobile computing. A wide variety of models is available-from many different vendors. These are fully functional personal computers. Because of the amount of traveling I’ve been doing recently, I now carry a laptop. As a matter of fact, I’m writing this column in a hotel room in Sacramento, California-some distance from my home in Texas. Once this column is finished, I’ll e-mail it to the Rough Notes office just outside Indianapolis. This is just a small example of how mobile computing can work.

Many people are replacing their desktop computers with laptops. The functionality is basically the same, and individuals can take the laptop with them whenever they need. This capability allows you to finish up some important details without cutting into family activities. For instance, you could take a laptop to your daughter’s volleyball game so you could finish that important memo and still not miss the important game.

In our last column we described how Internet-based agency management systems will allow agency staff to work from literally anywhere. Agency owners and managers need to begin now to consider these options and work out the practical details of how to make this work.

Handheld PCs

As their name suggests, these devices are smaller than laptops and they don’t have the full functionality that a laptop does. They allow you to carry basic information and include strippeddown versions of word processors, spreadsheets and presentation software that will allow you to complete basic tasks. They contain calendar, contact and task information and include the ability to synchronize the information on the handheld with the information on your desktop computer so that you always have current information whether you’re in the office or on the road. You also can retrieve and respond to e-mail using these devices.

Palm-size PCs

We have previously written about how much we like the 3 Com Palm Pilot. For the last two years there has been little competition in that category of pocket computer. That has changed with the release of the first of a number of palm-size PC devices based on Microsoft’s Windows CE operating system.

For the last couple of months, I’ve had an opportunity to use the Casio Cassiopeia E-10, one of the first devices released. As an avid Palm Pilot user for the last two years, I was skeptical that a “Windows” device could be any better than the Pilot could. Well, 3 Com had better watch out! This new palm-size PC (PPC) will give the Pilot some competition.

The E-10 is based on the Windows CE operating system. This is not Windows 98 squeezed into a smaller computer. Windows CE is designed to work on these types of devices. It has the feel of Windows and even includes a Start button. The Palm-size PC is optimized, both in hardware design and software interface, to be ideal for quickly capturing and accessing information.

With the Palm-size PC, quick access to your calendar, contact manager, task and note information is delivered in several ways. Program buttons allow you to turn on the device and directly access your favorite applications. A scroll button on the side is designed for one-handed operation when scrolling through lists and calling up or exiting items.

As with the Pilot, you enter text by using the Jot character recognition software (similar to Graffiti on the Pilot), or by the built-in software keyboards. The Jot recognition is more accurate and easier to use once you get used to it. You also can use ink capture to capture handwritten notes or draw pictures for those times when you want to take notes without character recognition. The Voice Recorder is activated using one button and allows you to record short reminders. This is ideal in the car, while walking, or any other time that you simply can’t stop to look at the screen.

You can use converted Word documents in Note Taker, but it is less faithful to the original Word document. Note Taker is really designed to take quick notes, including digital ink drawings. In fact, you can easily create Note Taker documents with a mixture of text, ink drawings and voice notes and send them as e-mail message attachments. Recipients can view the Note Taker page in Microsoft Word or WordPad and play the voice notes as WAV sounds.

The E-10 is basically the same size as the Pilot and fits in a shirt pocket. It includes a backlit screen and comes with 4MB of RAM and a

CompactFlash slot so that you can add more memory if you need to. Casio has built-in versatility by adding a serial port, speaker, earphone jack, microphone and IrDA.

The unit ships with the following software:

smARTcommander by ART (Advance Recognition Technology) which will launch or open any application or file by voice command. ART’s smARTspeak technology will recognize any language, voice or accent.

bFAX Express from BSQUARE allows you to send a fax from your E-10 device (requires Casio E-10 modem adapter).

Quicken ExpensAble from On the Go Software is a portable expense management system that is an ideal way to capture, group, preview and store travel expenses when and where they occur. You can synchronize your files from the E-10 to the desktop.

While there is a lot to like about the E-10, there also are some problems. The E-10 is slower than the Pilot is. It seems the Windows CE system just takes longer to do standard functions. Battery life is also significantly less than the Pilot’s. I’ve had to replace batteries in less than a week’s time under standard usage. With the Pilot I’d have to replace batteries every six to eight weeks.

As with most things in life, whether you decide to purchase the E-10 (or similar CE device) or the Pilot will depend on what you want to do with it and the trade-offs you are willing to live with. However, if you are thinking about purchasing a palmsize PC, or upgrading your current Pilot, the Windows CE-based units are worth looking at.

AutoPCs

The tools in this category are the smallest of mobile devices. They are simply a small computer for your car and will replace your car stereo. When we visited Microsoft, we were able to use beta units that were installed in several cars.

The AutoPC includes a full electronic radio, GPS system, contact information, e-mail notification and vehicle systems monitoring. The unit does not have a keyboard. The primary method of input is voice recognition. You talk to the device to get it to do what you want. You won’t have to take either hand off the steering wheel.

But why would you want all of this in your car?

Let’s describe a possible scenario. You get in the car in the morning to go to your first appointment. With the infrared capability of your palm-size PC, you update the AutoPC with your current contacts and schedule. You tell the AutoPC to give you directions to your first

appointment. Taking the address information from your schedule and using the Global Positioning Satellite System, it pinpoints exactly where you are now and calculates your route based on your destination address. It starts giving you audio directions as you begin driving.

Now that you’re on your way, you decide to return a few phone calls. You tell the AutoPC to look up “Steve Anderson.” You then tell it to dial. The system asks you if you want the home or office number. With your cellular phone connected to the PC, it dials the number for you.

As you’re driving, the system informs you there is a traffic alert due to a reported accident on the freeway. It asks you if you want a new route that will take you around the trouble spot. If you say yes, the system will calculate the new route and begin giving you the new directions.

We realize that this sounds like a Buck Rogers fantasy, but we can assure you that, based on personal experience, these units are functional and in the here and now. The first units will be available this fall and will cost about $1,200.

Mobile computing is not just for the business traveler anymore. Those who need access to information, whether down the hall or across the country, will be able to have it with them at all times. Begin thinking now about how mobile computing can help you remain competitive.

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Oct 1998

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