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RFID for your PDA

Luigi Cappel

There has been a lot of discussion lately that RFID is going to be the next wave in data collection, covering a wide range of applications. Now PDA and PDA accessory manufacturers are coming to the party. Symbol has released new PDAs running Windows CE with RFID, Wi-Fi, barcode reading and optional Bluetooth in a rugged device that has a drop specification of two meters to concrete. At the other end of the scale, SYWARE recently announced that it has displayed interoperability between the company’s Visual CE mobile database software and Socket Communications’ CompactFlash RFID Reader Card.

The devices can operate as a keyboard wedge without any software at all, which could make for very simple data collection using standard apps such as Pocket Excel, or you could develop applications using your favorite development environment such as Visual CE mobile database software.

Many industries are looking very closely at this technology, such as asset tracking, access control, process control, health care, medical, pharmaceutical and of course retail, which has driven many developments such as barcode scanning and wireless networks. Just as in the early days of barcode scanning in supermarkets, large US retailers such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot are starting to insist that suppliers put RFID tags onto pallets and cases of product.

Some people have been stating that we will soon see RFID tags on all our products at the supermarket. I don’t believe this will be the case in a hurry. Passive ID tags are still around 40 US cents each and whilst manufacturers are working to get their prices down, analysts are saying that it will probably take 6-8 years before prices reach 10 US cents per tag. This would be fine for appliances and items with a higher price, but for most grocery items the added costs would be prohibitive. If you are considering applications such as asset tracking, passive RFID tags may well be very cost effective and, with a range of up to 6 metres, could make stock- and asset-taking a much easier and more accurate activity. Remember the last asset stock-take you did on your PCs, monitors, keyboards, etc? Just accessing those barcodes can be a hassle in itself.

Palm apps can run on a Pocket PC
A few years ago there was a suggestion that Microsoft would license some of its applications to run on a PalmOne device in order to capture more market share for its applications. It never happened, and as DataViz offered Palm users synchronisation to Microsoft Office data, the demand might not have justified the risk of losing some potential Pocket PC users.

Now StyleTap has come up with the StyleTap Platform for Windows Mobile Pocket PCs. This application allows Palm OS applications to run on a Pocket PC. Many developers have had to rewrite applications so that they can run on both Palm and Pocket PC devices as many IT managers elected to stay in a Microsoft environment. Now it appears that they can have their cake and eat it too. With StyleTap, Palm and Pocket PC applications can co-reside and in some cases it is even possible to cut and paste data from one to the other. StyleTap is currently in beta, but StyleTap is so confident in the success of this solution it is already developing a version for Symbian users. The cost of such a valuable solution? Only US$29.95 with a free upgrade to the finished product when it is available.

VoiceIT for PalmOne
When it comes to data collection in the field, I have occasionally heard people complain they don’t have enough hands. Now US developer VoiceIT has come up with a voice recognition SDK (software developers’ kit) called VoiceLib, designed to allow developers for Palm’s OS5.2 and up to have voice recognition built into their applications. The application concept is proven in their Voice Dialer solutions for Palm OS Smartphones.

WorldMate for Blackberry
I have never used a BlackBerry. I saw one once at Vodafone, but other than that I haven’t seen them even out in the field. But I know they are out there somewhere. So, for frequent travellers who have one, I must tell you that one of my favourite travel applications, WorldMate, has become available on your BlackBerry. Now, when you are overseas and need to make a call, you will know what time it is at home or in the office. You can also get accurate currency conversions, global weather forecasts, and even flight schedules.

The BlackBerry success story has reached its pinnacle with the official naming of a new OSH condition. Yes, that’s right, BlackBerry Thumb was the subject of a consumer alert by the American Society of Hand Therapists. Tendonitis and carpel tunnel syndrome are becoming commonplace among users of BlackBerry devices. The society recommends that users place a pillow on their laps so that their wrists are in an upright position when they use their BlackBerry devices. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Maybe we need someone to invent a PDA Pocket Pillow.

Palm LifeDrive rumour
I recently wrote about memory cards for PDAs and how micro-drive storage is getting bigger. Rumour has it that the next top-end PalmOne device will be known as either the Tungsten X or the LifeDrive, because it will feature a 4GB Hitachi miniature drive. With the ability to drag and drop files using USB 2, the limitations of data mobility are disappearing rapidly. If the batteries last long enough, watching a feature film on your PDA could shortly become a reality. Of course you will use it only for technical data and business applications, won’t you?