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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 6262x
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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