If you were using technology in the early 1990s, there’s a good chance that you are familiar with the acronym PDA. No, I’m not talking about a “public display of affection.” Rather, the key-based “personal digital assistant” that one could use to share and retrieve information while on the move. I remember that, for many, being issued a PDA by an employer was viewed as a rite of passage in their career; a luxury of sorts. Many organizations were selective in their issuance of such devices, especially when they first came to market. They wanted to be sure such a significant investment (at the time) would pay off.
However, the value of this mobile computing technology was proven almost immediately for manufacturers, warehouse operators, field service organizations and others with highly mobile workforces. The need for real-time information was not exclusive to management-level team members. In fact, the case to give technicians, production line workers, warehouse pickers and other front-line workers a PDA-like device was perhaps the easiest to make. They didn’t have the luxury of sitting at an internet-connected desktop to access manuals, retrieve order information, update shipping logs or complete reports. Organizations needed a way to deliver the information to them, wherever they were. That’s exactly what the mobile computer was built to do, and it was a far-better option that old-school, paper-based information transfer for many reasons.
But the PDA was viewed as a consumer-grade device. Businesses needed an enterprise version. Enter Symbol Technologies and the enterprise digital assistant (or EDA): “a mobile device that looks like a smartphone or personal digital assistant (PDA) but has superior connectivity options and a more rugged build,” as Techopedia describes it.
The Early Days of the “EDA”
By the late 1990s, Symbol had solidified its position as a leader in the design and development of enterprise-grade barcode scanners and other wireless technologies. (Motorola Solutions actually acquired Symbol for $3.9 billion in 2006 to gain a better market position in the handheld computing market.)
That is because Symbol understood early on that, to successfully migrate manufacturing, warehouse, field workers and even healthcare workers to a technology-centric workflow, they needed to deliver a mobile computer with fast barcode scanning capabilities, a powerful computing core and a reliable wireless connection to complete their many different data-based tasks without disruption. After spending a significant amount of time on the ground with EDA users and understanding the potential line-of-business applications for EDAs, however, Symbol quickly recognized that a key-based device was not the future for many of its customers. While many warehouse applications utilized a “scan and enter” data entry flow – and still do today – most field and retail-based mobile applications rarely called for key-based data input. In fact, the keys could actually hinder efficiency. (The exception then and now would be in the transportation and distribution sectors, where drivers may need keys to input an address for navigation purposes.)
So, Symbol set out to improve the user experience for its customers. The result? The creation of the first touch computer and the start of a mobile computing evolution.