May 20, 2005, 10:43 AM — It may be hard to believe, but I didn't always have a cell phone. There was a time, when, if I needed to call someone, I'd walk into a structure known as a phone booth. And I used to carry a leather bound DayTimer, a loose-leaf book with a separate page for each day of the year. I penciled in appointments. I jotted down notes and phone numbers. So did you.
It's not like that anymore. My first electronic organizer was the original Sharp Wizard, circa 1990. Vertically oriented, it had a keyboard, not with a "QWERTY" arrangement, but, unfortunately, with its keys arranged alphabetically. A standalone device, it was more novelty than trusted business companion. Nevertheless, the great divide had been crossed.
Several Wizards and other organizers came and went. Eventually, 3Com shipped me its new Palm Pilot. Superseded by the Pilot 5000, Palm III, Palm V, PalmVII, and other models, I finally had a tool I could trust enough to ditch the DayTimer. As long as I could write in "Graffiti," it was a snap to enter phone numbers, appointments, and tasks. And syncing with a PC protected me against inevitable loss or damage. Alas, when moderating seminars, I started writing on flipcharts in Graffiti instead of English.
So let's jump forward. Today, I'm using a Treo 600 (650 to arrive soon). It's a phone. It's a PC-synced organizer. It's a Web browser. It's a camera. It's an MP3 player.
But it's more. Thanks to its reasonably open platform (I didn't say "open source"), third-party applications by the hundreds are available. And that turns my little smartphone into a genuine business tool. And that's good for integrators. (Sure, the Windows community has its counterpart in products from Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, and others; I just don't happen to own one of those.)
Consider some of the custom wireless Palm OS applications that major corporations rely on. In the automotive world, BFGoodrich collects realtime data on tire performance during auto races. BMW dealers can access lease and credit data as they walk the lot with a potential customer. Volvo quality inspectors examine new cars and can report problems. In healthcare, physicians at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center use handhelds for instant access to clinical information, including lab test results and surgical reports. At Miami Children's Hospital, physicians and nurses track post-operative management of pediatric cardiac patients. In manufacturing, Caterpillar uses an application that interfaces directly with Caterpillar engines, providing realtime diagnostic information. Through the U.S. Navy's Handhelds at Sea initiative, Palm handhelds capture critical data on the flight decks of the carriers USS Constellation and USS Abraham Lincoln. And at Pepsi Cola Buffalo Bottling, sales reps enter orders and track inventory.