What They Can Do
PDAs were originally designed as organizers. They could store addresses and phone numbers, keep track of appointments, and carry lists and memos. PDAs still do those things, but they are now more versatile. They can retrieve or send e-mail or download other information from the Internet. They can play music, movies and video games. If you wonder whether you could use a PDA and whether it would be worth the money (the average cost is about $400), you should take a look at the basic tasks that can be done with a PDA, but you also might find other uses that you never even thought of.

Here are things that PDAs can do:

  • Manage personal information (all models) -- This is function is often referred to as personal information management or PIM.
    • store contact information (names, addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses)
    • make task or to-do lists
    • take notes
    • write memos
    • keep track of appointments (date book, calendar)
    • remind you of appointments (clock, alarm functions)
    • plan projects
    • do calculations
    • keep track of expenses
  • Send or receive e-mail (some models)
  • Do word processing (some models)
  • Play MP3 music files (some models)
  • Play MPEG movie files (some models)
  • Get information (news, entertainment, stock quotes) from the Internet (some models)
  • Play video games (some models)
  • Integrate things such as digital cameras and GPS receivers (some models)

Who Uses PDAs?
PDAs can help technicians making service calls, sales representatives calling on clients or parents keeping up with children's schedules of doctor's appointments or after-school activities. In addition to the basic functions, there are thousands of specialty programs available for PDAs, including maps, sports statistics software, decision-making software, etc. Here are just a few examples of specialty uses for PDAs. These give you clues to the PDA's versatility.

  • Health Professionals
    Many health professionals (physicians, nurses, pharmacists) need to keep track of patient information (medications, treatments). Often, there are not enough computer terminals in the clinic or even at the bedside. In addition, many health professionals need access to information about pharmaceuticals (pharmacopeias, Physician's Desk Reference, Clinician's Pocket Reference), emergency room procedures and other medical or nursing procedures.

    Instead of carrying manuals with procedures or references or index cards with patient information in their pockets, doctors and nurses can put the information on a PDA. They can note patient information at the bedside in the PDA for later upload into a PC. They can download drug and procedural reference materials into a PDA for consulting at bedside. They can have programmed drug dosage calculators in their PDAs.

  • Amateur Astronomers
    The equipment that an amateur astronomer takes out in the field when observing is sometimes daunting. Not only does it include the telescope, telescope mount, eyepieces and cold weather gear, but also includes star charts, field guides and notebooks. Some astronomers have to carry a laptop to drive their computer-guided telescopes. So many of these loose items get scattered across an observer's table and are easily misplaced in the dark. If an amateur astronomer had a PDA, he or she could download a planetarium program into the PDA, which could serve as star chart and field guide. Then, they could take observation notes on the PDA and later upload them into a PC. The PDA could replace a laptop and drive the computer-guided telescope to the desired celestial coordinates. All of these functions could be done with one PDA instead of several other items.

  • Truck Drivers
    Truck drivers on the road must frequently communicate with their companies and their homes. They consult e-mail and keep track of expenses, shipping records, maps and schedules. Many drivers use laptop computers in their trucks to take care of these tasks. However, laptops have relatively short battery life and are bulky. PDA models and software available now can do many of these functions, from personal information management to mapping and wireless e-mail.