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 decision.
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
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.
General 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.
Simplify - 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 confusing workflow.
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.
Interface - 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.
Battery - 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.
Screen - 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.
Accessories - industrial units often accommodate
accessories like barcode readers that are not available for consumer PDAs.
Rough handling - 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
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
For field data collection, two hardened units are popular -
Meazura and Symbol. We support the Meazura RDA and the Symbol
SPT1550. The ACCESS website
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
comparison between Palm and Windows Mobile. For more information, see
of the Palm OS.
About PocketPC/Windows Mobile
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, versions. We are
experiencing problems between Windows CE and Windows Mobile, and between
different versions of each (specifically 5.0 and 6.0).
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
PocketPC/Windows Mobile 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
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 fit.
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 were purchased.
Industrial/ruggedized 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 operate in bright
sunlight, grayscale (B&W) screens are superior to color screens.