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I Hate My Palm Pilot
Why a PDA is not always a killer app

April 24, 2000

I hate my personal data assistant.

My company made me purchase a PDA recently, and as nice as it is, as pretty and straightforward and friendly my Palm-OS-enabled Handspring Visor may be, I just hate it.

In order to have it do what I want it to do, I have to keep adding and tweaking and fine-tuning it, when all along I had already figured out how to run my life without it. And this complicated, persnickety device simply doesn't add enough to my life to warrant its bothersome routines.

Before condemning me for my Luddite ways, let me clarify a few things. I am actually a bit of a gadget freak. I have a cell phone with a hands-free headset, I have DSL access to the Internet in my apartment, I have caller ID on my home phone "just because," I own five (!) portable CD and tape players -- one with remote control -- and I just recently got noise-reducing headphones. I am obviously not afraid of a new gizmo, although my learning curve can be stubborn.

No, my gripe with my PDA comes from one area alone: fuss.

In order to get the most out of a Palm Pilot (or in my case a cheap Palm-enabled knockoff), one has to tinker with it. Add programs. Install software. Install software on a home computer. Enter data. Hot-sync data. Join services. Edit lists. Re-sync. Sync daily.

But I'm a lazy person by nature, and no matter the strides I've made in combatting my laziness, I still get grouchy when I have to fuss with things. I never have insurmountable problems with, say, the clock on my VCR; I just can't be bothered to fix the blinking LCD until it becomes a problem, such as the day I actually want to program it.

This is true for all the technology in my life. I ran OS 8.0 on my Macintosh, even though 8.1 and 8.5 and 8.6 and 9.0 were available, until the DSL installation forced me to upgrade the system. (Even then, my friend David helped with the DSL installation. Actually, David set my VCR clock for me, too, but only because the blinking --:-- was bugging him.) I don't upgrade my web browsers; why should I? So long as I can read what I'm downloading, I figure I'm doing fine.

So imagine my dismay when I tried to get my Visor up and running. Now, a Palm OS works fine right out of the box, and it's fast and simple to understand. But I'm supposed to use it in an interactive setting, which means getting the Visor hooked up to my computer and getting some programs, such as Avantgo, running on it.

Here's the short list of what I did at work the day I got my Visor:
  • installed the cradle on my computer
  • installed the Palm Desktop and Hot Sync software
  • tried unsuccessfully to Hot Sync my system
  • reconnected the cradle
  • discovered that the Hot Sync function forces me to restart my computer after every sync due to an incompatibility
  • spent an hour and a half on looking for files
  • typed my personal information into the Palm Desktop address book twice
  • tried three times to install Vindigo, a hot restaurant-finder application, before discovering I needed to run a not-for-Macintosh .exe file to do so
  • restarted my computer four times after assorted Hot Sync attempts
Was it easy enough for me to get going? Yes. Was it aggravating? Yes.

And now that I have my PDA up and running, I'm not done. No, I don't think I'm ever quite done. I am supposed to HotSync into my computer every morning to get the latest news delivery from Avantgo. I'm supposed to put every new contact and business card into my address book. I am, essentially, supposed to let the Palm OS run _me_ instead of the other way around.

I don't really need a PDA in my life, though. Does it do a million things well? I bet it does. But does it do them better than I do them already? That's what it has yet to prove to me.

Address book? Date book? Note pad? I have an old-fashioned Charing Cross planner that I carry in my back pocket. I don't need batteries, just a pen. My day planner weighs about one fifth what my Visor does, and its leather-and-paper construction makes it a comfortable fit in my back pocket, which the Visor could never be. Ouch.

News headlines? I buy the New York Times every day on my way to work, and I'm on the Internet all day, where I can get news updates with ease.

Social planner? Never mind Vindigo; between my hard-copy Zagat, and Citysearch New York, I hardly need another application to help me out, although the cross-referencing is a nice touch.

Diversion? My cell phone has games on it already. No Tiger Woods PGA Golf like my Visor does, but I'll get by.

I recognize that the PDA is the way of the future, and even the present. But having a Palm Pilot in my life does not make my daily routines any easier. And until it does -- when I can buy a Palm-enabled cell phone with hot-sync capabilities that accepts AT&T wireless signals, costs less than $400, and doesn't give me installation headaches -- I'm content to let my spiffy new Handspring Visor sit around looking cool on my desk at work.

At least I know what the fuss is about.


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Copyright © 2000 David Wertheimer. All rights reserved.