Q: What is the difference between a PDA, smartphone, BlackBerry, and an iPhone?

Tech Q & A
– Submitted by Andy Bridgeman of The Bridgeman Agency

A: Sometimes, there is no real difference! Other times, the features can make all the difference! It just depends on a person’s point of view and what features they are looking for.

A PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) basically performs 2 main functions – organizing your contacts and calendar. They can also keep notes and do other functions, and can be expanded with third party software. The two most popular types of PDAs run the Palm OS and Windows Mobile OS. Some PDAs also have wireless networking available, so they can do things like browse the web or check e-mail.

A smartphone is basically a PDA combined with a cellular phone. Obviously, a smartphone can do all the functions of a PDA and a cell phone. Additionally, the combination of the two types of devices offers some advantages, such as being able to look up a contact and dial them directly, without needing to manually punch in their phone number. Another advantage is being able to use the cellular provider’s wireless data network to use the Internet from anywhere they have coverage. Popular types of smartphones include the Treo and various Windows Mobile-based devices.

A Blackberry is a specific brand of smartphone that gained popularity in the late 90’s early 2000’s. What set the BlackBerry apart at the time (and is still somewhat true today) was its ability to do real-time remote e-mail. Users could have their e-mail delivered to their handheld device and send immediate replies. While today the BlackBerry brand devices are much more full-featured PDAs, when they first came out, they were primarily only e-mail devices with only rudimentary PDA functions and no phone functions at all. In fact, they looked like large pagers, nothing at all like a phone or PDA of today. Over time, the BlackBerry brand expanded to include cellular phone functions and are now pretty similar to Palm OS and Windows Mobile smartphones.

The iPhone is a new breed of smartphone. The main differences between the iPhone and other smart phones are the “desktop-like” Internet functions, as well as the touchscreen interface. For more info about the iPhone, you can read my previous articles about the iPhone (part I, part II).

The 2 questions most people have are, “should I get a PDA or smartphone”, followed by, “which one should I get?” In my opinion, if you spend a lot of time with both a cell phone and PDA, then a smartphone is probably a good idea. I personally think the Palm OS is simpler and easier to use than the Windows Mobile OS, so keep that in consideration when choosing between the two types of devices. As far as choosing a BlackBerry, their big advantage is the ability to do real-time e-mail. However, the real-time e-mail feature doesn’t necessarily work with all e-mail systems. You will need to check with your cellular provider and your e-mail system administrator (or ISP) to verify if the BlackBerry will be able to provide you with real-time e-mail. Other smartphones now have the ability to do real-time e-mail as well now, the same caveats apply as the BlackBerry. The smart thing to do is to try to test the different types of devices yourself before making a purchase to see if any of them are a better fit for you.

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