Hand-held PCs get you working from a distance
A new generation of hardware will mean that you can take your job with you wherever you go, writes GREG GORDON
Up until recently hand-held computers and personal digital assistants or any sort of pocket-sized computer devices were regarded by many as a bit of a joke. Sure they could schedule appointments and store telephone numbers but that was about it.
However, new devices that combine modern computing power and software with cellphone technology are allowing executives to work from wherever they happen to be - whether the backseat of limousine or a hotel room.
"Decision-makers are ridding themselves of the mindset that says if you're not behind your desk, you're goofing off," says Andrea Spilhaus, group IT director at Dimension Data.
"Modern HPCs are as powerful as low-end Pentium PCs and, combined with Internet access through cellphones, make working from just about anywhere possible and productive."
HPCs are at the forefront of a technical revolution that is sweeping the wired workplace.
This year US Robotics launched its Palm Pilot, a limited yet useful digital device for contacts and scheduling. So far 750 000 have been sold.
Nokia's 9000 Communicator is selling well to and the company expects sales to reach the millions. As one Nokia executive says: "We don't put anything on our production lines we don't make at least a million of."
Nokia's 9000 uses proprietary software which can be used to send and retrieve E-mail, surf the Web or perform general office tasks such as faxing and word processing. Units have been snapped up because they are convenient albeit expensive at around R7 000 a pop.
The convenience factor is important. Instead of driving around balancing a map on your knee trying to get to an appointment, a simple call to whomever you are visiting can yield impressive results - they can fax you a map for directions straight to the phone.
The 9000 even has a hands-free speaker phone facility, making it a truly versatile machine.
Ericsson has gone a different route. It's prototype HPC uses an operating system called Windows CE - a sort of stripped down version of the Windows operating system that runs on most of the world's PCs. This means that any work done on the HPC is immediately compatible and transferable to a desktop PC using Windows.
A new version of CE includes colour screen support as well as powerful software for presentations which can be beamed to an audience with a device using a wireless infrared connection to a video projector. The HPC fits quite comfortably into the inside pocket of a business suit.
The real power of HPCs, howver, lies in their ability to connect either to a corporate network or the Internet via the cellular network. Whether you use Nokia's all-in-one device or Ericsson's "divide-and-conquer" phone and HPC, you can communicate with other computers using the cellular link.
Another device coming soon is even more impressive, although it's likely to raise hackles at Telkom. Soon people will be able to talk via their cellphones over the Internet, making it the same price to talk to anyone whether they are in Bloemfontein or Bangkok.
HPCs bring yet another technology to IT-battered executives. Now they have three technologies to choose from - and pay for. An HPC costs in the region of R4 000, a decent cellphone about R2 500 without a contract.
HPCs are not toys and they are likely to get more sophisticated very quickly. Already some have the ability to transfer electronic "business cards". Executives in a boardroom can swap cards using wireless infrared links. That's pretty much novelty value, as has been the case with HPCs for some time. Now they are being taken seriously as powerful work tools. As the number of workers and executives hitting the road increases, so sales of HPC are expected to boom. There's just one downside - with an HPC, you never have an excuse not to be at work.