February 01, 1999
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February 1999 Current Issue
February 1999 Tech filesPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:



Technology in the Palm of Your Hand

Tiny computers promise to change the way we manage meetings

Welcome to the cutting edge of emerging technologies. Each month, this column will take a look at a new application or gadget with the potential to strengthen a meeting and make the planning process more sane.

Let’s start with a question. “What is the most rapidly selling computer in the United States?” If Dell, Compaq or Apple comes to mind, sorry. The answer will fit in your hand: the Palm Pilot Computer made by 3Com. People are snapping up the handy computer in droves, so they can scribble notes that can automatically be converted to text, access their phone directories without the hassle of starting up a PC and stuff the device back into their pockets like a wallet. This $369 (and getting cheaper) tool is from the genre known as “palm devices.” Microsoft, Casio and others make similar products.

The current uses for these palm-sized computers make them nearly indispensible, and technology experts are working on further improvements that may make them de rigueur in the meetings world, for planners and attendees alike.

Marrying cell phones with the computer. Qualcomm is about to “mate” a cellular phone with the Palm Pilot. This will allow users to surf the Internet, read e-mail and access corporate databases, as well as make telephone calls from a single gadget.

Palm computer as a homing device. Several developers are working on versions of palm computers that will be trackable inside specially wired corporate headquarters and, more importantly, convention centers and hotels. This will allow each device to be continuously connected to a meeting server. An indoor “global positioning system” (GPS) locator device has recently been tested that will be bundled into the Palm Pilot; it will be able to show the user where he is on a facility map. This addition also will allow the meeting manager to locate any attendee in the wired building, provided the attendee is carrying the device.

Get materials in attendees’ hands without making copies. Presenters can now beam their handouts and overheads to students using the infrared (IR) capacity that the devices already on the market have.

Take the audience’s pulse. In the near future, audience-response capabilities will be built into the devices to allow participants to voice their opinions in a meeting room. Again, the back-and-forth will be recorded using the infrared technology.

Turn the palmtop into a dictaphone. Speech recognition for hand-held computers is just around the corner. Users will be able to dictate notes and then e-mail the text to their desktops without any typing.

Whenever a new technology is credited with possible world changes, it is critical to separate hype from reality. The hype here is that this lightweight device will be the only computer anyone will need. The reality is that this probably will not happen in the next decade, if ever. We still want the larger screen and full-size keyboard for day-long (or years-long) computing projects not to mention a CD-ROM or DVD drive so we can listen to music while we work. Further, for the GPS capability of these devices to function, buildings will need to be wired, and our comfort with digitally sharing such information will have to be addressed.

These devices and their rapidly evolving offspring do have the potential to become all- important as consolidated digital centers. Why carry a pager, cellular phone and personal information manager when you can combine these in a small, wearable computer that can do even more? The price will probably become similar to cell phones, where it will cost $1 for the device in exchange for purchasing a provider’s services (telephone, data and information services).

These devices have already been used in a meeting setting. At a conference in Orlando, participants could download a complete copy of the conference guide into their Palm Pilots. In addition, they could get updated copies by stopping at the information desk and asking for the updates to be “beamed” to them. Granted, it was a bit like a Star Trek scene, but with 200 breakouts, it was awesome to be able to integrate the conference guide into the daily schedule software.

To be ready for this future meetings world, grab one of these new devices and start experimenting

Elliott Masie is president of The MASIE Center ( an international think tank focused on technology and learning.

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