Before smartphones, the mobile computing device of the day were PDAs. I was fascinated by devices such as the Psion Series 5, the Nokia 9000 Communicator and eventually the Windows CE powered Pocket PCs Siemens Pocket LOOX and Compaq iPAQ.
Of course, I was still a kid back then, and these devices were way more expensive than anything I could afford (or had a practical use-case for, to be honest). There were, however, simpler “organizer” devices that I had.
Casio Data Bank DC-2100ER
An extremely simple organizer whose main feature was storing phone and fax numbers organized by name. Phone numbers were limited to American NPA-NXX-xxx format making the organizer somewhat less useful in Germany.
Rolodex Flash PC Companion RFLS-8
This was a slightly more advanced organizer. Its most distinguishing feature was the PC software it came with, allowing you to sync contacts from a computer to the organizer via the Timex Data Link: For this, you pointed the organizer at the computer screen and pressed the sync button on the device and in the software. This made the software flash horizontal bars across the screen, which were read by an optical sensor on the device. It was quite fascinating to watch, but only worked on CRT screens, meaning I could no longer use the organizer when I switched to my first laptop.
As I said, I didn’t have a PDA when they were en vogue and didn’t get my first smartphone until 2007. The PDA you see above was gifted to my technology collection a couple of years ago by a colleague when he was clearing out his own collection.
Of course, compared to the smartphones of the day, the PDA was bulky and under-powered. Its resistive touchscreen required using a pen or your fingernail and didn’t support the gestures of capacitive touchscreens used on smartphones.
The software, however, had a lot going for it. The Windows CE on the device looked and felt a lot like the Windows on your PC, though sticking with the desktop metaphor on a handheld device was probably a stretch. Still, it supported copy&paste for text throughout the system, something the original iPhone did not.