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Talk to the Hand

The hand-held PDA phone that is.

You are not seeing things if it appears that someone is talking into his or her Palm Pilot, Visor or Pocket PC. PDA phones are a lot more common than we might think. In November, technology consultant David Kobashigawa’s VisorPhone (with an attachable keyboard) was used by Pearl City High School students to compose and send news stories from the lobby of their New York City hotel after the students’ band marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

Kobashigawa says that since he is a techie, he normally does not buy version zero of anything. But when he heard about the Visor Deluxe with the cell phone module about two years ago, Kobashigawa found the specifications to be outstanding. He took the plunge.

"Whenever you buy cutting-edge technology, you have to know that you are going to be the first one on the block, so you’re going to be basically road kill if you have any problems. But if you see something that’s so revolutionary you know you’re going to get an advantage that no one else has, then you’ve got to weigh that. I think I’m two years ahead of everyone else with a PDA-type phone and so I have a lot more experience with it," explains Kobashigawa.

It’s not just techies who are benefiting. Cheryl Komenaka is assistant to the director of the Hawaii Undersea Research Lab at the University of Hawaii. She also runs a secretarial and computer business called the Swing Shift. She bought her Kyocera PDA phone the first week it came out and figures she saved $100 or more, since she was shopping for both a PDA and a cell phone at the time. Komenaka uses the address book, the voice-activated dialing and refers to it when trying to remember the last shade of lipstick she bought. "I love the way technology does that for you. That’s the funnest of the fun of technology, when it makes your life easier," she enthuses.

Patrick Wang bought one of the first PDA phones on the market in July 2000 then bought a Kyocera smart phone in 2001. Wang manages King’s Travel and also runs another profitable business selling collectible action figures over the Internet. "I don’t feel more productive with this or without," says Wang, "I just feel more comfortable having something in one hand, all in one unit."

Wang uses the Palm pilot-based PDA phone to access his more than 100 e-mails a day, but says he hopes the color gets better, and, when a future Pocket PC platform version of a PDA phone comes out with more memory and power, he may switch again. His reasoning: Microsoft’s Pocket PC platform will be more useful in writing and sending documents. He may be able to operate as an office and not have to lug around his laptop.

Price has probably been a factor in why these wireless hybrids are not more popular. They cost about $500, and calling plans with different wireless providers, depending on the minutes you get, can run more than $100 a month. Then there’s the speed factor (or lack of speed) for data transmission. Yet, as prices come down and technology improves, more people should be looking for ways to stay connected, especially in light of Sept. 11.

Two women featured elsewhere in this issue already use PDA phones. American Savings Bank president and chief executive officer Connie Lau and Cyberlink Pacifica Owner (Hawaii Business’ new small-business and technology columnist) Robin Tijoe both use Kyocera smart phones.

UH’s Komenaka says she hasn’t even begun to tap all the capabilities of her current model. Says Komenaka, "But until they have one that will wash my car, this is the best I’ve used so far."

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Hawaii Business,February