PDA’s and Productivity (part 1)

The release of the “Pre,” the latest smartphone manufactured by Palm, made me wonder once again about the design of these devices.

Recently, I read an article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of breakthrough technologies, and it made me think in more detail about the job a smartphone/PDA is meant to help users perform.

In the old days when the PDA replaced the paper organizers such as the DayRunner and Filofax, the answer was obvious.  PDA’s were all about productivity.  They were meant to assist users in their job of being organized.

Today, however, as more functionality is added to the PDA it seems that the original mission has been lost, and that designers are no longer thinking about their users’ intention to be more organized. Instead, they are looking to combine as many electronic devices into one, with the goal of maximimizing convenience.

However, convenience is not the same as productive.

Picture two professionals seated beside each other in the typical airport lounge (I happen to be seated in the departure lounge  of VC Bird Airport in Antigua.)

One has brought along his cell phone, camera, PDA, laptop, watch, digital voice recorder and mp3 player.  He uses them in a somewhat clumsy manner.

The other pulls out her iPhone, Blackberry or Pre, and performs the same functions with a single unit.Clearly she is using a more convenient arrangement.  But is she more productive, and is she able to manage her time with greater skill?

That’s not clear at all.

As I see it, the use of more complicated gadgets could either make things harder or easier, depending on the the design.

I have some thoughts about what a device should do to enable a user to improve the management of their time.

1) Ease of Capturing

A good PDA should help users to Capture effectively, and give users a choice of methods for doing so.

Like many users, I use a small pad to capture most of my incoming time demands.  It sounds like the easiest option in the world to pursue, but I wanted to find a way to combine the pad and PDA into a single package so that I could carry it around easily.

I found a PDA wallet that could take a pad as an insert, but the real problem came when I tried to find a replacement pad.  They were impossible to find.


Recently,  I have resorted to purchasing a small pad that I cut down to size using a pair of scissors.  I looked for a replacement PDA wallet that would allow me to use an off-the-shelf pad. It appears to me that they are no longer even made!

I am sure that users of smartphones have the same problem — no easy way to combine a paper pad with their unit.

I know that the manfuacturers would argue that you can use some kind of keyboard or  stylus to capture time demands, but as many users know, that method is slow, clumsy and prone to errors.  They would prefer to use a simple paper pad.

In terms of time management, users would gain more from a vastly improved device for capturing, than they would a camera or mp3 player.

(This is article will be continued)