Why "PDA" is no longer appropriate

By Brian Dolan
09:38 am

Brian DolanThere is little benefit to be gained from deciphering the ever-moving target of teen speak, which at the present time is greatly influenced by abbreviations used when text messaging. "IDK my BFF Jill," as the popular Cingular wireless commercial once taught us. For the healthcare industry, though, some wireless industry semantics are worth exploring at the risk of remaining known as the industry least likely to adopt new technology.

For example, ask a teenager today what "PDA" means, and you won't enter into a discussion about the glory days of Palm Pilots or the ergonomics of stylii. Instead, you'd likely hear about "public displays of affection."

While physicians, nurses and hospital staff come to grips with the idea that the term "PDA" is no longer appropriate, the telecom industry is already talking about dumping the term that has come to replace it: "smartphone."

A new report from Forrester Research analyst Ian Fogg suggests that the term "smartphone" is no longer helpful because it fails to describe any discernible grouping of today's increasingly "smart" handsets. Many in the healthcare industry still believe the term "PDA" to be a worthwhile constituent of their everyday vocabulary, even though personal digital assistants could include everything from a mobile phone, a handheld video game console and -- soon enough -- next-generation digital cameras. 

"A PDA was essentially a mini-computer that was a pocket-sized device," Fogg told mobiheathnews in a recent interview. "'PDA' was a category of devices that basically got killed by the mobile phone in the early 2000s, because the main thing consumers used that device category for was address book, calendar and maybe email. Those things fit naturally into today's mobile phones."

Fogg points out that Palm, which led the PDA space while it existed, no longer makes new PDA models and hasn't for years. Windows Mobile-based PDA makers like Dell called it quits on PDAs a few years back too, Fogg noted. Most of the applications available on the legacy PDA platforms are now available from the application stores run by various phone makers and wireless carriers.

Fogg contends that the reason the use of PDAs and the term itself has persisted in the healthcare industry might be that many hospitals and other places of care have long banned the use of mobile phones. Since PDAs do not have cellular connectivity, they have been acceptable. The ban stemmed from fears of interference with medical equipment, but thanks to newer technology and a diligent FCC,  many bans on wireless technology and devices in clinical settings have been lifted.

So, what happened to the term "smartphone?" In his report, Fogg pokes holes in each of the various ways people have attempted to define "smartphone." People point to specific features of a phone to determine whether it's a smartphone: "Specifically to having an MP3 player, having a Web browser and having a good enough camera," Fogg explained. "The problem with that is if you look at all the so-called 'feature phones' that the industry does not call smartphones they are all getting better and better cameras... better browsers... and even touch screens." 

Most phones look pretty "smart" to consumers these days, Fogg concludes.

Wonder what they think when their doctor consults a handy PDA?