Mobile Tech - Defining Mobile Technology for Legal Professionals

Welcome to Mobile Tech, a new monthly column written by Tyler Regas.

Tyler Regas began his career in computer hardware maintenance and repair and
soon added Mac and Windows networking to his professional interests.
Then came *nix, graphic design, web design, and multimedia. When PDAs
and wireless came about, Tyler learned all about PDAs and their usage
for both consumers and corporate users. The PDA HandyMan site is the result.
Tyler started writing and tech editing in 1997 and, with his wife, has
worked on over 100 books. In addition to writing full time, Tyler also
consults for businesses, large and small.

Before any introductions, I think a definition of what mobile technology is will help you integrate this column. Now, there are two grades of definition that I can apply. One would typically be over-simplistic while the other, invariably complicated. Thus, I will offer both in hopes that the ‘twain shall meet:

1. Mobile Technology = any gizmo that uses batteries, fits in your pocket, and stores information for later, convenient retrieval.

2. Mobile Technology = a device, such as a PDA or smart phone, that can store, access, create, allow to modify, organize, or otherwise manipulate data in various forms from a location without being required to be tethered to any particular spot. Such a device could be a simple PDA like a stock Handspring Visor, a Palm OS device, and act merely as a vessel for a small amount of static information. It can also be as complex as an Intermec Series 700 PocketPC device that incorporates a fast, new XScale 400MHz processor, barcode scanner, 802.11b, Bluetooth and GSM/GPRS wireless communications, and a rugged case capable of withstanding several 5-foot drops onto a concrete floor. Such devices can be used to store, modify, view, and transfer a wide range of file formats such as Word documents, PDFs, HTML, and any number of device-specific formats. These same devices can be used to store, access, modify, and remote-connect to databases ranging from SQL Server to Oracle. They can also fit in your pocket and typically run on rechargeable batteries.

I’ve also decided to include a small glossary here so that you might understand what is what in the above descriptions:

  • PDA – Personal Digital Assistant, a generic term used to describe any handheld computer that incorporates a screen, utilizes a pen-based interface for operation, and stores information such as addresses, appointments, and notes, among other things.

  • Smart phone – The convergence of the PDA (see PDA) and the mobile, or wireless, phone (formerly known as Cell Phone, a description which is no longer accurate).

  • Palm OS – The operating system that runs devices made by Palm, Handspring, Sony, Handera, Symbol, and others. These are simple devices that only run one application at a time, but offer simplicity, ease-of-use, long battery life (1 to 2 months on 2 AAA batteries), and reliability.

  • PocketPC – An interface for Windows CE 3.0 from Microsoft that works on handheld devices like the Casio E-200, Compaq iPAQ, and Toshiba e550. PocketPC devices are typically in color, have fast processors, can run multiple applications, and support multimedia (audio and video), all at the cost of battery life (typically 4-6 hours of continuous operation).

  • XScale – A processor for mobile devices created by Intel based on designs from ARM Holdings, a company that Intel acquired a few years ago. XScale processors are fully ARM compatible and can run applications made for older ARM-based devices like the current crop of PocketPC devices. XScale processors are significantly faster than their predecessors. The ARM SA1110, which is used in all current PocketPC devices, is capable of 206MHz. The PXA250 is capable of 400MHz.

  • Barcode scanner – A laser device that scans and reads barcodes. Barcodes are common to just about all retail goods and are used to store specific blocks of data about the product (i.e., price, product name, IP code) for later retrieval.

  • 802.11b – The wireless Ethernet protocol common to most wireless environments today. The protocols top speed is 11Mb/s (megabits per second) though you are unlikely to see more than 6.5Mb/s, which is good enough for just about anything, including playing music over the network.

  • Bluetooth – Another wireless protocol, but limited to what is now referred to as a PAN, or Personal Area Network. With a maximum reach of 30 meters (approx. 90’), Bluetooth is used to connect compliant devices to each other for the purpose of offering services. An example of this is to wirelessly connect a PDA to a wireless phone for a connection to the Internet. If care is taken in the design of the device, Bluetooth does not conflict with 802.11b and can be used at the same time, with certain limitations.

  • GSM/GPRS – Yet another wireless protocol that is used by wireless phones and compatible devices. GSM, an older technology, is capable of speeds upwards of 16Kb/s, which is a little more than double a 56k modem connection. GPRS, a so-called 2.5G (G = Generation) technology, was supposed to offer 114Kb/s, but field tests indicate an average of 56Kb/s.

  • PDF – A special version of Adobe’s PostScript file format for rendering electronic files in a form that exactly matches what is expected of the print version. There are viewers for Windows, MacOS, Linux, Unix, Palm OS, Pocket PC, Windows CE, and a variety of other devices and platforms.

Now that we’ve established a terminology and technology baseline, I can begin to write what I planned for future columns. Hopefully, I can do that without fear of confusing you. In said future editions, I will shed light on a wide variety of approaches to utilizing mobile and wireless technologies in and out of the library and legal setting. There are innumerable directions that can be taken with wireless technology in the law library and legal environment. Some even go as far as providing a live librarian for lawyers in the field, with access to library materials at any time of the day or night from almost anywhere on the planet.

I hope you will find the ideas and concepts I bring to you in this column both intriguing and stimulating. Please send me your comments, suggestions, and questions or simply drop me a line.