31 May, 2007

Spring Has Sprung

And new gizmos are on the wing.

Nuts And Bolts

Palm has just announced the Foleo, a two pound extension of the Treo smartphone. The Foleo uses Bluetooth to access the Web or eMail via the Treo's phone service. It also is the first Palm device based upon Linux rather than Palm's own proprietary operating system.

This is not the first attempt to find a niche midway between PDA and laptop. oQo offers the model O2 which has built-in wireless networking. And various companies have played around with subnotebooks, tablet PCs, and so forth.

Will Foleo make much of a splash? It seems to me that it will be underpowered - only five hours of battery life for example. It needs Bluetooth to connect to a Treo for eMail or the Web although it will have wifi also. I question just who is the target customer for this machine. And I wonder how one will use it: with the Foleo in one hand and a Treo in the other, keyboard or stylus use will be a challenge.

Calling Home

There is still no native wifi for Treo smartphones, although there is a wireless card that can be plugged into the SD slot. The new Treo 755p has support for EVDO (means faster connection to the web or email) but it's still a cellular service-based feature. The whole idea of wifi on your mobile phone cuts to the heart of cellular company revenue models. Now that Palm's better models are all smartphones, it's an open question whether we will ever see robust wifi for Palm OS devices.

Web-based services and applications, and voice-over-internet phone (VOIP) capability would be very useful in a hospital or large office building. This would also help in a crisis when cellular service failed. Emergency teams could bring wireless routers and satellite uplink antennas to the scene and establish (or re-establish) web-based services quickly.

Why bother with VOIP if one has access to cell service? I like the idea of operational flexibility with a familiar interface. When you need to improvise communications, it's better not to have to carry multiple phones and radios, and not to have to learn how to use unfamiliar equipment that is only brought out when you are stressed and in crisis. The ability of a smartphone to use cellular or VOIP, as the need arose, would make life simpler.

With clinical reference info and some hospital or community agency phone numbers inside, a smartphone becomes an important tool in a crisis. Add GPS, the ability to take and upload photos, and a bar code reader to really expand the scope of tasks. Who says there are no new challenges for mobile medical computing hardware?

Software and services to take advantage of these new abilities will emerge. Two examples that give a taste of what is possible. Google Maps will work with GPS to provide location-specific info such as where to find the nearest hospital, and give directions to find it, complete with voice cues. Shout Postcard lets you send multimedia messages to multiple recipients. Include pictures, audio, text to provide a detailed report to dispatchers or base hospital staff.

Heed the Call

Cell phones and computerized call lists make a powerful combo for emergency call back systems. A public health agency or hospital could theoretically activate a disaster plan and notify off-duty staff with just one mouse click. Palm and AT&T recently began to promote AT&T's Send Word Now service. Now that Palm is focusing on its smartphone products, it's not surprising that they have partnered with telephone service providers. Codespear, Voiceshot, Amcomsoft are just a few of the many other players in this field. The recent mass killing at an American college has resulted in much tasteless marketing but these services do have considerable potential to improve emergency alerting and staff recall.

Say It Again

The Palm 755 offers voice control of many functions. You can make phone calls, browse the web, and much more. But what if you want voice control without having to buy a new PDA? Start by taking a look at the list of voice control software at Pocket PC Central. Short list. Google didn't help much either. It seems that there are only a few programs, aimed at the Palm OS device market and only the newest models at that. If Palm continues to include voice command capability in future models there is not likely to be a stampede of third party software vendors into such a small market space.

Error Correction Mode

Reader Guylhem Aznar wrote to correct the impression left by my post on 20 April that push email was not available to users without the Treo 700w PDA, which has Versamail 3.5 installed in the factory.

In fact VersaMail 3.5 is also available as an upgrade and provides users of Treo 650, T|X and LifeDrive with a Blackberry-like email experience. Guylhem must have a flat rate data plan with his cell phone company which allows him to get email on the Treo 650 without being charged airtime for each upload!

The principal downside of the VersaMail upgrade is that it installs to RAM on the PDA (VersaMail 2.5 is already installed into ROM but it can't be upgraded there). Guylhem, a talented fellow, has inserted a ROM upgrade chip into his Treo, but this is not a surgical intervention for the casual hobbyist. Perhaps Guylhem will post instructions onto his website one of these days (hint, hint).

Websites of Interest

Palm has created two sites to support customers. The MyPalm site offers tips and software discounts to Treo users. Specify your model and cellular service provider when you log in. If you don't see your provider listed, pick the "unlocked" model but be careful before installing software upgrades as they may not match. Naturally, there is no specific support for Bell, Rogers or other Canadian phoneco customers. I will probably stick with the more traditional support channels to avoid trashing my handheld.

If you want to read another source of info, the Official Palm Blog is a new site with articles about hardware, software, and news. Not restricted to Treo users and worth checking when you have no new Medical Palm Review issue to read (grin).

Easy Come, Easy Go

Two weeks ago something happened to the Review archives and the search engine broke. The programmer who put the website together has moved on to bigger and better things so it was very gracious of Randy Showalter to take the time to fix things up for us. Apologies to anyone who was frustrated by the glitch.

If this ever happens again, you can still search our archives using Google. Try a search term prefaced by "Medical Palm Review" (hint: include the parentheses). This misses a fair number of articles and references in past issues but will catch some, usually the more recent ones.

The fact is, however, that much of the archival material is no longer topical anyway. Hardware reviews are particularly time-sensitive. It's unlikely that anyone is going to try to buy a Sony PDA, now that they have stopped making new ones, to give just one example.

Whether through lack of creative juice or because of recurring questions from colleagues and friends, certain themes do recur in articles about software and troubleshooting, however. Maybe I can mine the archives for some ideas to revisit, before the server dies or something else turns out the lights on the website forever.

Sic Transit Another Month

The summer issue will come out in July. Until then, enjoy!

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