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Personal Digital Assistants

Electronic notebooks, personal digital assistants and pocket translators were quite popular less than a decade ago, however, now all of them are obsolete because of the smartphones that are available starting at around $200 - $250.

Apple Messagepad. Image originally published by

The first personal digital assistant is officially believed to be Apple Messagepad (Newton platform), which was formally unveiled in 1992 (some believe that the first PDA was Casio PF 3000 released in 1983, but its functionality was just too limited, it only could store phone numbers, addresses and memos and was limited in memory capacity), but it never was mass produced due to various reasons. The company that actually made a mass PDAs was U.S. Robotics with its Palm brand in 1996.

U.S. Robotics Palm Pilot 5000. Image originally published at Flickr

Palm quickly became rather popular among business users and in the year 2000 Microsoft Corp. introduced its operating system (OS) aimed at handhelds: Windows for Pocket PC. Along with Microsoft, numerous makers of personal computers, including Compaq and Hewlett-Packard, introduced their own PDAs.

Both Palm OS- and Windows-based PDAs did not feature GSM connectivity and that required owners to carry both mobile phone as well as PDA.

Blackberry Bold 9000

But the new class of devices was born while PDAs were evolving: in 1996 Nokia released its first Communicator phone that featured PDA functionality and in 1999 Research in Motion introduced its Blackberry (the first implementation resembled an Internet pager, like ICQ).

HP iPaq 5550

By 2003 – 2004, there were numerous smartphones on the market competing against personal digital assistants. Although they were bulky, at the time PDAs had numerous advantages over smartphones, e.g., Windows operating system, compatibility with different file types, support for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi (in fact, it was possible to make phone calls using Skype!), higher-performance processors, higher quality screens and audio output. However, by the year 2006 smartphones evolved tremendously: they got support for Wi-Fi and also featured 3G baseband, in addition, their multimedia capabilities were a far cry from what they were just several years before that. As a result, in 2005 – 2006 timeframe the popularity of PDAs among business users started to decrease and at present almost nobody use them for business purposes.

Apple iPhone 3GS

From some point of view PDAs have not died: they evolved into smartphones in many terms. Even Apple iPhone, a device that many consider to be the peak of the evolution, resemble PDAs with touch-screens that were available many years ago.

The main reason why personal digital assistants ceased to exist is their high price and the lack of support for GSM/GPRS/EDGE/3G, which meant that cell operators had no stimulus to subsidize pricing of PDAs or sell them at discount prices. Obviously, operators were much more interested in selling smartphones, which eventually pushed PDAs out of the market.

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