personal digital assistant (PDA)

Contributor(s): Colin Steele

Personal digital assistant is a term for a small, mobile, handheld device that provides computing and information storage and retrieval capabilities for personal or business use, often for keeping schedules, calendars and address book information handy.

Popular in the 1990s and early 2000s, personal digital assistants (PDAs) were the precursors to smartphones. Most PDAs had a small physical keyboard, and some had an electronically sensitive pad on which handwriting could be received. Original uses for a personal digital assistant included schedule and address book storage and retrieval and note-entering. However, many types of applications were written for PDAs.

Types of PDA devices

Apple's Newton was the first widely sold PDA that accepted handwriting. Other popular PDA devices included Hewlett-Packard's Palmtop and Palm's PalmPilot. Some PDAs offered a variation of the Microsoft Windows operating system called Windows CE. Other products had their own or another operating system.

History of PDAs

Apple CEO John Sculley coined the term PDA in 1992, but devices fitting that description had existed for nearly a decade prior.

In the mid-1990s, the manufacturers of PDAs, pagers and cellular telephones began to combine the functionality of those devices into a new device type now known as a smartphone. Nokia, IBM and Palm were some of the major players in the market at the time.

PDA and pager manufacturer Research in Motion Limited released its first BlackBerry smartphone in 2000, and the company dominated the market for most of the century's first decade. In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone, a touchscreen smartphone, and within five years the market had shifted away from devices with physical keyboards.

Personal assistant Palm T|X, HP iPAQ hw6915
Personal assistants Palm T|X, released in September 2005, and the HP iPAQ hw6915, released in February 2006.

Future of PDAs

In the 2010s, the technology industry recycled the term "personal digital assistant." The term now more commonly refers to software that recognizes a user's voice and uses artificial intelligence to respond to queries. Examples of this type of personal digital assistant include Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana and Amazon's Alexa.

This was last updated in November 2016

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What is the legacy of personal digital assistants?
The legacy well its not really a legacy as these devices are still sought after and use today. The reason as they are typically far more reliable than a smartphone and the use doesn't have to worry about the device being hack as its never online. Also lots of people don't want information in the cloud and want to keep it locally so the active sync or the Palm Desktop is great for inputting the info easily and keeping a copy on the computer as well. Lastly, who wants to steal a PDA as people think the are old and outdated and yes they are but as state they are more reliable and rugged.

The fact is these devices are still very useful even if they never get online again. Since privacy and our worthless government is prying into people's live with a weak cover claiming they are protecting people from terrorism which is B.S. the old PDA has new life to help keep data private.
What part does embedded microphones play in this technology?