A Different Approach for
Programming"> Bruce Grant, the divisions senior director for research and development, said he sees Muscos situation as a good example of the potential of handheld-phone hybrids, leveraging their communications and computer capabilities. "Were seeing a growing capability of smart phones that seems to outpace the applications available for them," Grant said.The Treo 650 that Musco is using, for example, ships with only 32MB of memory, with only 22 to 23MB available for use. (Palm officially says 23MB available, but it doesnt recommend using more than 22MB of that because the Palm becomes highly unstable when available memory approaches 800KB.) Even much of that is locked by core applications (such as e-mail), giving programmers very little room to create advanced applications, especially if the user has several productivity apps installed. Grants testing suggests that the truly available memory is actually much less. Although Palm says the unit should remain stable until available memory approaches 800KB, Grant found that problems began much sooner. "Within about 1.5 to 2.5MB of filling, its a bad thing. It gets unstable," Grant said. But if apps are kept tight enough to avoid using that much of the memory, he said, it works quite well. "There are obvious limitations, but it performs better than what people realize," Grant said, adding that they tried placing the information for all customers (as opposed to just that sales reps slice) on each PDA. "When we took the entire snapshot of the database with all of the customers, it fit. Just barely, but it fit." "It forces us to stop thinking in the paradigm of XML" and to program in the much more limited Palm Database language [PDB]. PDB handles and compresses data very differently from its Windows counterparts. "Its very compact and executes very quickly on the Palm, but this is not yet a full-blown operating system such as what it is on our desktops," Grant said. Given that all of the data recordsother than the price listreside on each phone, steps have to be taken to keep the database within the small memory footprint of the smart phone. An extra memory card is one option to help, but Grant didnt want to force customers to have to buy one for their app to function properly. Retail Center Editor Evan Schuman can be reached at Evan_Schuman@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, views and analysis on technologys impact on retail.
Programming for such small devices, though, requires a very different approach.