And what’s out there. Below that, what are the software design and data transmission issues that need to be considered if you’re thinking about this equipment?
It’s relatively early. You know, handheld devices have been out for a while; you’ve seen some of the antiques being used. The Newton devices have held, I think, their ninth birthday this year. So there have been devices out there for that long, but their appearance in the market, their volume and their pricing, have begun to change very, very rapidly in the past 12 months. The Newton was a $1,000 device when it came out, and there is pretty much nothing in that price range for these small handhelds now.
So, we see the use of the handheld whenever the full laptop is not an option. There are certainly differences in capability and form factor for these devices, and I think you’d want to make the decision to use a handheld where it’s most effective. Clearly, for doorway screening, where you need a light, portable device with a good screen; hospitals and medical clinics, where you’re moving around and very mobile, going from room to room collecting data. Another example is diary applications, where people are recording information through the day. There have been studies, EPA studies, where you want to report your environment all day to assess your exposure to chemicals. Or, if you’re working in a plant, how many hours did you spend in this room versus that room? How much were you exposed? These are easy devices to carry around to do that. In market research, people tracking you down in the mall and getting to you. Fundamentally, any situation where the data collector is on the move, needs to be standing during the interview, and needs something small and light.
So far, it looks like you would need to restrict your attention to shorter and simpler questionnaires. Some of the—Moore’s Law will probably have some impact. These machines are expanding in capability fairly rapidly, certainly in data storage capacity, and the ability to plug things into them to expand their capability is improving very rapidly. I haven’t seen so much change in the speed of these devices as you see in other machines, and that may be related to the effort to keep battery consumption down and weight down. And maybe because the market is still relatively small. But I think that may change and you may start to see this doubling of capacity every 12 to 18 months.
Based on our experience at RTI, we’ve been using as a handheld the Apple Newton which—in many ways—is a very innovative and very clever device. It’s small; it’s light, about a pound and a half. It has a large screen, by today’s handheld screen size standards. And it’s been around for a long time. We’re using this in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and we’ve had it in the field for three and a half