Tech talk:Super PDA could replace the PC

One day you could have the functions of all your electronic devices on a single handheld.

One day you could have the functions of all your electronic devices on a single handheld.

Would you like to replace all your electronic devices with a single portable product? You could get rid of your desktop PC, your notebook and your palmtop, your mobile phone, your Minidisc player or digital recorder, your MP3 player, your Gameboy, your portable DVD player, and your digital watch. Not to mention your non-electronic Filofax and A-Z.

The system that has got me thinking is Toshiba's new e740 Pocket PC, a 6oz wireless PDA with a 400MHz Intel XScale processor and 64MBytes of memory. The clever bit is an optional expansion module that slots into the bottom of the device. This adds a USB port and a monitor port, which could revolutionise the handheld computer market.

You should be able to roll into your office, take the e740 out of your pocket, and plug in a desktop PC keyboard and monitor for word processing and Web surfing. There is no need to synchronise your address book and appointments. If the Pocket version of Microsoft Office is not enough, you can run any Windows 9x/NT/XP programs you like by using a Remote Desktop Protocol connection to an NT server. Do you still need a desktop PC?

While travelling, you can use the outstanding handwriting-recognition software supplied - Microsoft Transcriber - and plug in USB hard drives to take back-ups and stream DVD movies to the built-in Windows Media Player.

Like other handhelds running Pocket PC 2002 software, the e740 already works as an MP3 player, voice recorder etc, and you can download street maps, or plug in GSM phone and Global Positioning System modules.

I don't know if the Toshiba e740 actually works as well as my imagination - I have not had a chance to try one yet. There could be any number of problems, including a dearth of USB drivers for things you might want to plug in via the expansion socket.

On the other hand, it does send a clear signal about the future of mainstream handheld devices. The days when they could be designed with very little regard for the rest of the computer industry are drawing to a close.

There is no reason why handhelds should not be able to use the same keyboards, monitors, PCMCIA cards, hard drives, printers, joysticks and other peripherals that you would expect to be able to plug in to a desktop or notebook PC. This would save time, massively reduce the cost of accessories for handhelds, and also enable users to get extra benefits from the peripherals they already own.
Jack Schofield is computer editor at The Guardian

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