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THOUGHT: When is the Pocket PC for a user crossing the boundary from toy to tool?
Posted by PPCW.Net Editori - on Tuesday, 20.07.04 - 11:18:36 CET under 09 - Thoughts - Viewed 5692x
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Contributed by Dr. Wolfgang Irber, PPCW.Net Reader and Business Professional

With more and more colleagues and friends using PDAs these days, it's interesting to observe the different "PDA habits". Besides the observation that Pocket PCs are becoming the clear winner with beginners, more interesting is the question how long does it take that somebody becomes used to switching from analogue to digital in information management, or in simple words: how long does it take to become familiar with these little devices? When is the time that the initial "toy" becomes a useful tool? Is there a difference when using the phone or the standard edition?

Digital "palm" vs. biological palm
The reason why I started thinking about this was a recent experience I had with a colleague. When I asked him to bring something from home, he wrote it onto his palm (the biological one). A bit puzzled I asked him, why he doesn't write a note using his Pocket PC, and he said: "Well, I may forget to look at the PDA, and even when I write a note with sound notification, I may not hear it if the PDA is in the house and I'm in the garden. And, he said smiling at me, writing onto my (biological) palm is faster than getting the Pocket PC out, switching it on, open the application and writing with the stylus."

That's a point, but this also told me: even though he owns a very advanced PDA already for a couple of months, he has not done the turn from analogue to digital. His habits still follow the old patterns he has learned over years; and his expensive PDA still remains a little used toy.

It takes time: changing from analogue to digital
I fully understand the problems many people have with their PDAs. It's not done with buying one of those fancy electronic organizers and then you are automatically perfectly organized. In reality, it's a long-lasting learning process which eventually allows us to fully utilize the benefits of digital information management. With long-lasting I actually mean months or even years.

My personal experience
When I am looking back for myself, it took me almost two years to find out most of the tricks and options; and I'm still learning! The handbook coming along with my PDA was good but only described what I could easily figure out by myself. But every time I was running into a problem, the manual was no help at all. Even books that specialized on PDAs did not much extend the manual itself. All the troubles I was coming across, often consumed more time to fix then what I saved with the new technology. The most useful way was searching for information in the Internet. My last aha-experience was Carlo's description on PPCW.Net of how to use the time zone settings with a Pocket PC.

Analogue to digital: it's not done with 1:1 transfer
But back to the learning process: the biggest challenge as I experienced it was not the transfer of entries from my paper notebook and calendar to the Pocket PC, but how to access them with the same easiness and speed as I was used to. It's not done with copying everything 1:1 into the different applications. Analogue is not digital! But to find the best handling requires creativity that is nowhere described in any of the manuals. I often had to trick the built-in applications in order to serve my needs.

And another unexpected problem soon arose: even though you can store an incredible amount of information, how do you find it again? I recognized that I have to develop a structure for my information storage that is simple in handling but effective in finding entries again. All the countless yellow notes that were formerly sticking around my desk and beyond now need to be assigned to categories and folders with carefully chosen keywords. Otherwise the Pocket PC would be no help at all.

Getting used to using a PDA
It's not only the becoming familiar with all options of the applications, it is also the becoming familiar with using the electronic device like paper and pen.
In the beginning I felt stupid using the PDA in the public or even carry it along with me in meetings. Of course, both because of the sarcastic comments of my colleagues but also because of my still prevailing analogue behavior: writing on a sheet of paper was the way I was used to; looking at pages in a real calendar requires much less abstract imagination then the digital counterpart with limited display area.

Recently I was asked by a colleague who was sitting next to me in a meeting while I was writing notes using the PDA: "Hey man, do you actually use it for everything?" I thought about it for a moment and replied: "Yes, almost."

Crossing the boundary
With time I started to use the PDA for more and more purposes, and I silently crossed the boundary from toy to tool. With significantly changing my information handling and using the PDA more and more often, it eventually became the powerful every day's tool that it is today.
And a honest word: if my Pocket PC had missed the built-in GSM/GPRS modem, I'm sure I had used it much less and my learning curve had been a lot flatter. Why? The more you can do with a PDA, the more you use it, the more you understand it, the more you benefit from it.

Final Conclusion

Pocket PCs or PDAs are powerful companions, but require a long-lasting and - in my opinion - often underestimated learning process for "normal-users". Based on my experience, if you want to cross the boundary from toy to tool in using a PDA, this requires a significant change of well established habits in information management and self-organization. But in particular with the combination of information management and wireless internet access, the PDAs and/or Smartphones will allow their owners to cross the boundary from toy to tool even faster.

Cheers ~ W


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Posted by cheekymonkey on 20.07.04 - 19:32:28

As usual, an excellent article from Doc Wireless!

What particularly struck a chord with me was having to learn how best to get data into a PDA and then be able to access it fast. I think there is no hard and fast way of doing this, instead it takes time to see what works for you in terms of folders, keywords and categories.

For me, with every gadget / device, it always goes like this:

Early days / weeks: "This is sooo cool, look it does this and then that, listen to this noise / video" (Without actually using it efficiently on a daily basis.)

Then it sits on a shelf as I had not learnt enough for it to be essential.

Long term: "Hmmm, haven't used that in a bit, let's see what it can really do. Invariably I then break it as I overclock, dig into the registry and generally see what makes it tick. Only after repeated enforced hard-resets did my xda2 become something that I had really understood and therefore used daily.

Posted by Arne Hess on 20.07.04 - 20:04:16

Indeed an excellent article from Wolfgang.

I see the major difference of a paper-based planner and a PDA... with a paper based planner, no matter where you write a note, scribble a phone number, or jot down an appointment, it remains where it was originally written. With a Pocket PC, you can sort it, re-sort it and come up with different ways of arranging them.

It is true... to be more efficient with new technology requires discipline. It requires uniformity, and an approach which is systematic.

A PDA user never stops learning and never stops refining his/her style of using a Pocket PC. 

Mabuhay! ~ Carlo

Posted by Arne Hess on 20.07.04 - 20:43:59

[1] Hehehe...  big_smile I fully agree with your description of the gadget live-cycle! Same for me... :oops:
[2] I think Wolfgang highlighted some valid points here. For a user it's not about "if you can sort it/rearrange notes" but about convenience and the easiest way to write notes down.
I have to admit I'm not that much better and I classify notes into two "impotencies":

Someone tells me something in the office while I'm on my desk, I take a Post-It, write it down and glue it on my screen or even better, inside my Pocket PC case (that I'm sure not to lose it).
I want to write down something important I'm sure I have with me to have it where ever I'm AND I'm sure (at time of creation) I will keep it longer: I'm using my Pocket PC (or Smartphone together with SmartphoneNotes) to write it down.

But yes, I also have to admit that I even write some stuff into my palm (and I'm not talking about the digital Palm ;-)) for instance if I'm in the cafeteria, don't have my Pocket PC with me nor Post-It's and typing it into the Smartphone takes to long (and looks to geeky - for instance if one of the top managers is talking with you ;-))

IMHO Wolfgang abstracted the "problem" pretty good!

Cheers ~ Arne

PS: Have I already told you that I love Post-It's...? ;-)

Posted by Thomas O. on 21.07.04 - 10:11:48

[3] Well I think everyone using a PDA (Palm or MS based) knows about the PosIt Prob i think.

I my eyes the main thing is not teh "inportancy" but, how long is the validity of the information?

Think about beeing on the phone, someone telling you a fact that you might need the nex 10 Minutes, you won´t put that down as a task, will you?
Is it WORTH to type it into the PDA.
This is how I use Postit´s, or even the brain 8O

BUT doesn´t this also bring us to another the point? Isn´t bringing information into the PDA still is to complicated.

When I walk the shopfloor in our company I use my MDA in many ways. Thaking photos and sending them directly via Mail gives efficiency, cause it is like (seeing it, solving it) I also use the dictaphon, so I can bring out tasks from the spoken word.

What I do not do is writing notes, cause the Keyboard is not fast enough , and Transcriber isn´t accurate....

What do you think? :?:

Thomas O.

Posted by Wolfgang Irber on 21.07.04 - 17:34:30

cheekymonkey, Carlo and Arne,

Thanks for the compliments. It surprises me a bit that we all struggle with using PDAs for an effective information management, but it also comforts me :-)

In particular, I liked Carlo's comment that we need discipline, and that's exactly the point.

In order to fully utilize the PDA's potential, I had to discipline myself (very much indeed!)

I well remember the first months when I was asked for an appointment at the phone, tried to do it with the xda, then gave up and replied: "I'll call you back." That was embarrassing. You have a state of the art electronic device, but you are not able to use it properly. I just could not find the right section, info, entry etc. at the time I needed it. At that time I missed the required discipline, structure and systematic in information management.

Hence, within of the last two years, the xda learned "ME" how to organise myself :-)

By the way, Thomas mentioned the validity of information. If I know that the information is just of short term use, I always put it into the calendar. I do the same with daily tasks which I never write into the task section but into the calendar. These entries are automatically loosing their actuality with every day and eventually disappear. Very convenient!

But I cannot complain about the virtual keyboard: it is fast and accurate. I never understood why people want to use the transcriber: that's a very analogue habit :-)

Cheers ~ W

Posted by Eberhard on 01.08.04 - 04:09:00

I jsut got my XDA II and I bought it because of it's easyness of use. For example, if I'm on the phone and needs to look up a phone number, I can do so by just tapping the contacts button on the top. If I need to write notes, such as direction to someone house, I just tab on the notes icon on the bottom.

Before XDA II, I had the iPaq 3955 and I use it to play games rather than actual tool. I rarely use it and I think it's a useless toy. Eventhough I have the same games on my XDA, I don't use it to play games, as I don't want to drain the battery for such an unimportant thing.

With this, I use it more as a digital notes, I use it daily, and eventhough people look at me like a geek, I don't care. It works for me and it's convenient. I don't even charge it until I get home, so when it beeps to remind me something, I'll look at it right away.

Posted by Wolfgang Irber on 01.08.04 - 19:42:44

[6] Eberhard,

I would be interested in your personal way of how to organise and find the endless number of notes you are certainly getting with time.

I noticed that when I ask 10 people I'm getting 10 different answers.

So, what's your personal recommendation?

Cheers ~ W

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