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Pocket PC Programming

Handheld applications help amortize a company's investment in computing power by extending it to its most mobile employees, who operate at the point where the data is first collected—and, often, last disseminated. You can extend your company's computing reach quite economically. The hardware can cost as little at $200 for a palmtop computer, ranging up to about $1000 for a Jupiter-class CE machine with a keyboard big enough for touch-typing. Even devices incorporating barcode readers, can go for only $500 or so. 

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Advanced Information Technologies Overview

Application categories for handheld computers are proliferating, in large part due to the ongoing integration of peripherals and processors. The amount of memory and computing power packed into today's handheld devices approaches that of desktop systems of even a decade ago. Today you can get single-board Web server systems in a footprint you could cover with a box of matches. 

The real challenges are now coming from the fact that we can't shrink human hands and eyes commensurately. So everyone is trying to figure more comfortable and reliable ways of getting data in and out of very small systems. Certainly the best device for a given app may not be the smallest one. 

Right now one of the biggest uses of palm devices is replacing clipboards and multipart forms with automated form entry systems. Form templates are downloaded from host to palmtop. Field users take the palmtops with them and enter data onsite. At the end of the day they reconnect their palmtops with the host and collected data is transferred to a central database. 

Palmtop-based data collection goes faster and is usually less error-prone than collection with paper and pen. Palmtops can handle mundane chores such as computed fields and repeated fields. They can provide drop-down lists in place of multiple-choice entries (such as states), and can even incorporate user entry safeguards and validation. For example, they can verify that the proper number of digits was entered for a social security number. 

Such apps are proving popular in sales force automation, inventory management, field service, inspections, and more. 

Of course, personal information management (PIM) apps are driving consumer purchases of palmtops. This has spawned a rapidly growing host of apps for time management, to-do lists, contact databases, phone lists, and so on. Such apps typically allow some form of remote data management. That is, the user downloads a subset of a database maintained on a host platform, then takes that subset (with its attendant palm-based app) on the road. When the user returns to home base, the data from the palmtop is resynchronized with the host database. 

You can find support for corporate extensions of PIM-style apps in development kits such as Microsoft's Pocket Outlook SDK. This SDK helps developers create Windows CE apps that communicate with CE's Pocket Outlook tracking and scheduling software. The SDK provides APIs that allow apps to tie in to the Pocket Outlook Object Model (POOM), creating apps that query and manipulate the Pocket Outlook database. 

Amazingly, handheld apps are also appearing to let users access the Internet on the road. For example, Pendragon InfoRover enables users to download Internet content to their desktop PC, then format that content for downloading to and viewing on a palmtop. Also, many Web sites are offering alternate pages of Web content, specifically formatted for viewing on small handheld screens. For users with continuous Internet connections, InfoRover lets them schedule unattended downloads. The downloaded pages are later synchronized to the palmtop device. In addition, HTML can be read from disk and transferred to the palmtop device. So you can create HTML content on the desktop, downloaded it to the palmtop device, then use InfoRover as a simple information reader app. 

Finally, even the large database houses are seeing the utility of palmtops as roving database engines. Sybase Adaptive Server Anywhere supports the creation of database systems with memory footprints as small as 50K. Adaptive Server Anywhere supports two-way synchronization. Similarly, Oracle's Oracle Lite is a small, single-user object-relational database system designed specifically for mobile computing. 

RAD; Rapid Application Development Application

And you can now do RAD for handhelds. Yes, handheld programming once required complicated C/C++ acrobatics to deal with the lack of development environments and extreme limitations of processing power, RAM and solid state memory. But those barriers are falling. Portable, handheld computing devices are making enterprise inroads—especially those from Palm Computing and Microsoft Windows CE-based devices from Casio, Philips, Hewlett Packard, Compaq, and others (such as Symbian/Psion). Fortunately for you, Microsoft has committed to supporting Windows CE with a rich, robust, high-level application development environment. And Palm Computing is improving Palm OS programming tools with the help of third parties and its developer community. 

Many corporate applications augment the typical personal digital assistant (PDA) organizer functions: contact, task, and appointment management. PDA users often find ways to manage e-mail as well. And some companies are extending line-of-business apps to the handheld space with sales force automation, data capture, and forms entry apps, along with business intelligence services. 

The most common business drivers for handheld apps come where business-critical data needs to be immediately captured on the device when first encountered, or which must be available just in time. You can take advantage of a device's built-in organizer functions, or build custom data access apps to satisfy the requirements for fast, portable, reliable use and delivery of enterprise data. 

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