I started to experiment with PDAs in 1996. My first one was a Sharp ZR-5800. Later on I bought an HP 320LX. I was rather late in the game. In fact in 1981 I saw a prototype of a handheld computer; the label Personal Digital Assistant did not exist at that time. But I saw a first prototype at the annual conference of International Electronic Publishing Research Centre (IEPRC), which was held on the grounds of the Paper Research Institute in Leatherhead, UK.
Present as a delegate was also Dr David Potter, who was typing on a small machine, which consisted of three parts: a small screen, a keyboard and a battery part. It looked a little bit like a later copy of the Psion series on the photograph. David Potter was one of the smart guys of the UK together with Clive Sinclair, who later on produced the ZX81 and ZX Spectrum home computers. David had established a software house in 1980, which developed games to make money in order to invest in PDA-like machines. The article in the UK Wikipedia on Psion also explains the company name as "Potter Scientific Instruments Or Nothing", a reference to its founder David Potter, CBE.
Later on I met in the Netherlands an entrepreneur who was thinking along the lines of PDAs. But he was too far ahead of the masses. The company was named ENPROS. It wanted to manufacture small machines, which worked with flash memory. The brochure gave a clear idea of the what the machine was intended for (see illustration)
The term Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) did not exist until January 7, 1992 and was coined by the then Apple Computer CEO John Sculley at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada. In the speech where he coined the name he referred to the Apple Newton. Apple developed and marketed this line of PDAs from 1993 to 1998. Suddenly the handhelds of Psion and Palm had a label. And the Newton, an allusion to Isaac Newton's apple, had something more than the others. For its message pad it featured handwriting recognition software. This handwriting recognition software was in its early stages and did not function too well. In fact there have complete take-offs on television like in the series of the Simpsons, ridiculing the handwritten results.
By 1996 I thought that PDAs would be as normal as address and appointment books in the future and that people could also load a book into the memory and read it when they were riding the train or flying. And indeed Peanut Press provided e-Books for the Palm handhelds. But none of the other computer companies stimulated publishers to go into e-Books for their PDAs. I think that it has been a missed chance.
Do I use a PDA at present? No. I will be going for the Nokia Communicator as it will hold my address and calendar books; but I will not load books onto it. I will keep my iLiad for that purpose.
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