Mobile StrategiesThe 1999 Mobile and PDA Forum
By Dominic Giangrasso
October 1999, issue 30
Revelations of this past week, I had the opportunity to attend the 1999 Mobile and PDA Forum in New York. The forum is designed to allow mobile computing users, vendors, and third party developers to gather and schmooze. However, it wasn't a free lunch.
At the forum, there were a number of sessions in which I was a major player. I've spoken at these conferences for the past few years and seem to have become the owner of my very own session, an introduction to handheld and PDA technology.
Weeks and even months before the session, I search the Internet, trade journals, and even competing magazines to seek out new technologies, trends, and applications. I try to determine if the hardware and software I spoke about in the prior sessions is still hot or even exists anymore.
Those who know me also know that I am an information junkie. I am constantly in motion and literally read everything I can get my hands on either on paper or by electronic means. My PDA typically holds over 1MB of Avantgo channels, many updated daily, and I read them all during a low point at a meeting, at lunch, on a subway ride, and even between lights when driving in Manhattan. The upshot of it all is that my session is always as current as I can make it. I have even made changes right up to the time of the presentation if I find something I positively have to tell the audience.
At the session I get to impart my information in my own cocky New York style and try to have some fun with the attendees as well. At the end of the hour and a half, I leave the podium secure in the knowledge that I have done my best to tell folks everything they need to know.
This year, while looking around the conference exhibits a bit after my session, I realized that I wasn't seeing things clearly. This wasn't the fault of the conference coordinators; it was entirely my fault.
What snapped me back from my ego trip was a development director from an organization who challenged that I was focusing on the easy stuff. He contended that what really drives the mobile technology is the application. If you find something or develop something that does what you need, the hardware decisions pretty much happen by themselves. While there are tradeoffs on the differing technology fronts, they become academic if the software does not meet your needs.
We agreed that we really had not heard enough about software applications or application environments. His arguments made a lot of sense. I realized that I, too, had fallen into the trap of talking just about hardware in my session. Which made me think, because once I take my techie geek hat off, I too am a businessman seeking business solutions, not just neato hardware.
So I won't say another word about hardware in this column. Instead I'll talk to you about some interesting application environments I ran into during the conference. While wandering around the exhibits, I was drawn to the Pad Systems Inc. booth. They had their EMS application running on a Hammerhead tablet PC. It you haven't seen this medical application, you should, even if your not in that market. The application, called PadSTAT, is one of the best designed pen-centric developments I've ever seen. The EMS tech simply points to a body part on a schematic of the human body and is whisked to a Q&A session to identify the injury. The package helps the EMS tech to zero in on the real injury and its recommended treatments. PadSTAT is deployed at Acadian Ambulance & Air Med Services which covers 17,000 square miles of territory and is the largest independent ambulance company in the United States. It's such a good example of mobile technology at its best that even Bill Gates chose to highlight it in his recent book Business @ the Speed of Thought. The book focuses on what Gates calls the "digital nervous system," the key aspect of which is the total control and management of the data that is critical to running a system. Gates describes the Pad Systems application as a shining example.
While I was at the Pad Systems booth, I also got a demo of a new mobile environment that really caught my eye. The interface was reminiscent of Windows Explorer but with a higher level of intelligence. The interaction was through a tree-structured view of the data. Everything from viewing to adding and editing elements of the data was possible through this simple tree structured interface.
The environment is called PadWORKS and was created for a utility company, but it was obvious how the interface, data structure, and operational screens could be applied to almost any business structure. Even the old but still powerful tiled windows concept was used to its best advantage. With the navigation structure visible, one could still interact with the data. Even more amazing is that Pad built this environment to allow other applications to ride along with it. Your existing applications can integrate nicely into the Pad Systems environment.
In addition to the obvious benefits of an integrated mobile application suite, Pad included yet another killer component, a built in automatic distribution system. Each time a mobile user calls in, the software automatically checks the integrity of the application suite, reloads missing components and adds new ones. Elsewhere you pay a lot of money for this feature alone.
Visit them at www.padsys.com and check out demos of both PadSTAT and PadWORKS. Bill Gates' latest book is also worth a look if you want to gain an understanding of his digital nervous system theories. More about great software I saw at the Mobile and PDA Forum conference next time. After all, it's not just neat hardware....
Dominic Giangrasso can be reached via e-mail at email@example.com.
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