Desktop, notebook replacements

Email, says former Rocom director Luigi Cappel, is "the killer application" for handhelds. Surveys suggest businesspeople spend on average two hours a day dealing with emails, which usually means time spent in the office.

Email, says former Rocom director Luigi Cappel, is “the killer application” for handhelds. Surveys suggest businesspeople spend on average two hours a day dealing with emails, which usually means time spent in the office.

Rocom last year launched a product called Me-Mail, which gives people access to their emails on a handheld or laptop through Telecom’s cellular network. This information can then be synchronised with their office PC. Me-Mail’s fortunes were boosted when Telecom introduced improved CDMA network services and related CDMA 1X PC cards in November, says Cappel.

Cappel’s parents live on Kawau Island, where the 021 and 025 services only work close to the house, he says, whereas 027 CDMA is much more reliable and works “everywhere”. The attraction of being able to connect to company networks from remote locations, or even while sitting at traffic lights — which should probably not be recommended — can save the average businessperson half-an-hour a day, Cappel estimates. “From a productivity perspective, that’s quite huge.”

Sales reps can be available on the road and tech support people can avoid having their holiday ruined by the system going down at work.

“More and more people are demanding or expecting people to be available for email,” says Cappel. “Reps say they are out on the road and cannot answer email. The reality is, they can.”

The joys of faster data-capable systems such as CDMA and Vodafone’s GPRS equivalent, and the recent introduction to Windows-based handhelds such as HP Jornadas, Compaq iPaqs and the like of Microsoft’s Terminal Server Client means people on call can now give tech support from a handheld instead of having to lug around a laptop. (Citrix also offers a remote client and Palm handhelds provide remote links).

“On the server you can run an application for that one [Terminal Server] client,” says Rocom technical consultant Bodo Bosch, “so the client can run databases; and from that one server, run many desktops.”

Bosch says when a network fault is recorded, an SMS note is sent to the user’s cellphone. “It can say the file server is running out of space, a virus has appeared or whatever. Once you get the message, we can deal with it through your CDMA phone or card.

Business at a distance

Changing and creating staff rosters is often a pain for bosses and staff, but Christchurch-based Bootstrap IT has an answer.

Bootstrap IT’s Terry Paddy wrote a staff roster program while working for Ansett NZ as a pilot. With business partner David Pugh the software, now called myroster, has been rewritten mainly in Java, making it suitable for desktop, mobile phone and PDA use.

“Shiftworking employees are slaves to their roster and cannot manage their lives without constant reference to it,” says Paddy. He notes that not only it is difficult for workers to keep up with changes to rosters and find colleagues to swap shifts with, but it’s hard for employers to communicate information to employees, “as shift workers are never all in the same place at the same time”.

Myroster is intended to ease these problems by making staff roster, payroll and memo details available anywhere through mobiles and PDAs. Myroster is going live next month at the 600-staff Christchurch Casino, after testing during December and January.

Australian casinos are also showing “intense” interest, says Paddy, and hospitals are also being targeted as potential clients.

A personal boon

Then there are just self-confessed handheld enthusiasts like Jerry Conley and Brian Barclay.

Conley, service manager for Walker Wireless, says his Compaq iPaq is “integral” to his life. He has had it since its US release in early 2000 and uses it for “everything from computing, meetings, emails, writing, across the board”.

Conley says he uses the iPaq more than his laptop and it even has handwriting recognition — “a great tool, it recognises even my scrawl”. He uses it for downloading maps when he travels to find out the nearest hotel and recording the voice of his daughter to send to his parents. “My partner calls it the electronic mistress.”

Barclay, the network manager for Radio Networks, has used Palms for three or four years but switched to iPaqs because they offer colour. He uses handhelds for email and selecting music for his Cool Blue 96.1 radio station. When he commutes from Te Awamutu to Auckland on the train he checks his email; and when driving, he can record his comments, after listening to MP3 music. “It transcribes tasks; it’s incredible,” Barclay says.

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