Palm vs. PocketPC
If you have been
researching hand-held units, you know there is lots of hype about the
different platforms out there. It may not be immediately
apparent which one is best for your application. We offer this
analysis in the hope that it can clarify a few issues and help in your
Basis of discussion
This paper represents our opinion, based on years of experience with
hand-held computers. Experience with a specific make or model
may be limited, but the wide variety of our experience highlights the
important features to consider. We are also looking at those
factors that apply to data collectors.
A clear distinction must
be made between consumer models and business/industrial hand-held
hardware. The same is true with applications. Things that
apply to the consumer/office arena do not necessarily apply to the
business/industrial arena - and vice versa.
Currently, we primarily support the Palm, but we are moving to support
both the PC and PocketPC/Windows Mobile platforms. A version of
PocketLog for PocketPC/Windows Mobile is currently under development.
We expect to port DataGet to the Windows Mobile platform utilizing the
DataGetUSB line of adapters. Future plans include wireless/Bluetooth
adapters and software.
considerations for Data Collectors
There are a number of important general factors when implementing
a data collector on a PDA (or Mobile Computer. )
Text entry -
generally, you want to avoid requiring the entry of lots of text,
as hand-helds have limited keyboards. Use drop-down selector
lists, checkboxes and similar devices instead.
hand-helds have limited screens and display capabilities, and it
is very easy to get lost. The software should make
navigation easy and intuitive. The design should be
clear and straightforward. Often it is harder to
develop this kind of software, to achieve the proper balance
between functionality and ease-of-use. Simplify your
requirements and make sure the software can meet them without a
Memory - most
hand-helds today have more than enough memory to function as data
collectors. The issue is not how much memory do they have,
but how much data do you risk losing if the battery dies or
hand-held is damaged or lost.
the hand-held must play well with the PC. Transferring data
should be simple and straightforward, and accomplished with the
push of a button or a couple clicks of the mouse.
most consumer hardware now has built-in rechargeable batteries.
These batteries may not be enough for extended data collection
projects. Most industrial units have replaceable,
rechargeable battery packs - should your battery run down, you can
quickly replace the battery and continue with your work.
basically the choice is between color and black&white. Color
units tend to drain the battery faster. Black&white
units can sometimes be a good choice as too many colors can be
distracting. B&W (or Grayscale) screens are often easier
to see in bright sunlight.
industrial units often accommodate accessories like barcode
readers that are not available for consumer PDAs.
- industrial units are built to withstand rough handling and
adverse environments. While no hand-held hardware is
indestructible, ruggedized industrial units will easily withstand
treatment that would rapidly destroy consumer hardware.
Standard OS -
Many data collectors use a proprietary OS. This limits you
to the types of software you can use. Further, if the vendor
for your software goes out of business, finding an alternate can
be difficult. Standard OS's such as Palm and PocketPC let
you expand the usage of your hardware, and help to insure that you
can support for your software. Further, there are simply more
applications available for the standard OS's.
Palms were built from the ground up for the hand-held environment.
They quickly became overwhelmingly dominant and tens of thousands of
software applications have been written for them. There are
probably more Palm PDAs in service than all other brands combined.
Palms tend to cost less than other brands. Palm was designed
from the start to be a stand-alone computer that interfaced well with
the PC. Software written for one level of the Palm OS tends to
work well with subsequent versions. The hardware can vary
between versions and vendors, but affects primarily the interface
For field data
collection, two hardened units are popular - Meazura and Symbol.
We support the Meazura RDA and the Symbol SPT1550. The
features an overview of Palm hardware including the Meazura.
Input on a Palm is done
using a touch-screen. This makes the Palm very easy to use, but
can be a detriment in some environments - the stylus can be easily
lost, the unit can be difficult to use with gloves, and the screen is
not as impact-resistant as non-touch screen devices. Color screens are
not generally available on hardened units. Battery life is very
good on hardened units.
Hype and rumors about
the supposed future demise of Palm apply to consumer and phone devices
- not to business and industrial devices (PDAs). The Palm OS is
a stable, and mature, platform for business and industrial
applications such as SPC or general data collection. With over
20,000 software titles available, the Palm platform will be around for
a long time.
ACCESS, the new owners
of the Palm OS have an informative
page detailing many of the benefits of the Palm OS - including a
TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) comparison between Palm and Windows Mobile. For more
information, see their overview
of the Palm OS.
PocketPC/Windows Mobile was designed as subset of Windows/PC, and was
intended to look and act as much like your PC as possible. There
have been several releases of Windows hand-helds, and software written
for one version is not always compatible with other, newer or older,
For field data
collection, there are a number of brands available.
PocketLog, when released, will run on most brands, and DataGet will
run on selected mobile hardware that supports a "USB Host"
Generally, the PocketPC
form factor uses touch screens, and units with keyboards (often ABC,
not QWERTY) use Windows Mobile. Each vendor/manufacturer tends
to customize their version of the OS, so software should be tested for
full compatibility. Keyboard units do allow easier text entry,
but may not be easy to use with gloves. PocketPC/Windows Mobile use
color screens which tends to shorten battery life.
tends to be more expensive than Palm hardware - especially for
ruggedized, field units, but can be the best choice in enterprises
where already established, or where other software indicates their
In a stand-alone
environment, Palm gives the most 'bang for the buck'. In an
Enterprise situation, the PocketPC/Windows Mobile may be a better
Review carefully how
you will be using your unit. Consumer-oriented hardware may
not stand up in industrial/field data collection, but may be
preferable in an office or sales environment.
Don't buy your
hardware based on supposed future compatibility as either platform
may die or change. Your decision should be a business
decision based on ROI. Any hardware you buy now will likely
be incompatible within a few years. On the other hand,
ruggedized units have long life and many DOS-based units are still
around. While they won't run the latest off-the-shelf
software, they continue to perform the functions for which they
units have longer product lifetimes than do consumer units.
Consumer units tend to change each year, while industrial units
tend to last five years or longer. The Symbol 1500 series,
for instance, has been available since 1998.
If you need color,
go with the PocketPC/Windows Mobile. If you need battery
life, go with the Palm and grayscale screen.
If you operate in
bright sunlight, grayscale (B&W) screens are often superior to color