Doing Handsprings Over Technology:

Newest Handheld PC is Amazing!

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

May/June 2000



While most therapists now use computers in their practices, many steer clear of placing them in their therapy offices. To check a phone number, an appointment or e-mail, the therapist seem to choose not to have the computer be a distraction while doing therapy.

Many practitioners have told me that the decision of where to place their office computer was a conscious one, made to separate the clinical practice from the business. Many simply feel that having a computer in their office does not make the office seem friendly and therapeutic. However, equally often I hear therapists tell me that they would love to have a computer in their therapy office where it is available for their use before and after sessions.

Rest easy; your dilemma is no more! Your salvation has arrived in the form of a Handheld PC (HPC) called the Visor by Handspring.

HPCs (also called Palmtops or Personal Digital Assistants) are not new. A few years ago, the Sharp or Casio HPC, touted as an electronic address book, sold for $500 or more. You could even keep your schedule and write short notes to yourself. Were they helpful? They were for some, but for others, they led to nightmares. Does the following story sound familiar?

About five years ago, I had not heard from a friend of mine for quite some time. Then, I received a letter in the mail that asked "all my friends" to send their phone numbers and e-mail addresses. My friend had bought an electronic address book, entered his schedule and daily notes. It worked great until the day he lost all the data. Fortunately, he had saved the addresses on a desktop computer, which enabled him to send this letter. He admitted that he learned his lesson and now keeps an electronic address book and a paper copy.

In 1996, 3Com released the Palm Pilot. It became a success because it contained a new operating system (called the PalmOS), the timing for its release was perfect, and the marketing excellent. Today, over 5.5 million Palm Pilots are in use.

What made the Palm Pilot so important was the its ability to serve as more than an electronic version of an address book and schedule. Using a language called Graffiti, it introduced ways for users to write lengthy notes and even access one's e-mail! In addition, with thousands of software titles and lots of add-on peripherals, the HPC is actually a small computer that fits in your pocket.

Two years ago, the core developers of the Palm Pilot left the company and formed Handspring to create a different and better HPC. Handspring's Visor shines in several areas.

First, it is priced at a reasonable $149 for two megabytes of memory and $249 for 8 MB. Comparable Palm Pilots cost several hundred dollars more. Visors are available from Handspring (http://www.handspring.com/) or from Staples, Best Buy and Comp USA.

Visor's 8 MB of memory means that you can write 6,000 memos (1,500 with two MB), have 12,000 addresses, 10 years of appointments and more. Memos can be quite lengthy. In fact, this 1,100-word article could be written two of them.

With the Visor and Pilot, you also get a "cradle" that you hook to your desktop. With the push of a single button, written material can be transferred into MS Word. Amazing!

Second, the Visor wins because it has a unique expansion slot. This slot will accept modules created by third-party developers who work with Visor to make it do lots of new tricks. Although the developer program is in its infancy, Handspring's website heralds the pending release of modules that will make this a truly traveling computer including (1) a wireless modem for e-mail and Internet access, (2) a cellular phone, (3) a pager, (4) a digital camera, (5) video games, (6) an MP3 music player, (7) extra memory and more. Several modules are currently available including Tiger Woods PGA Tour Golf and a quick backup module. At least 20 more are due for release by June 2000.

What makes HPCs especially useful is the introduction of portable keyboards. I am currently writing this article using a Visor and a keyboard by Targus called the "Stowaway" (available from http://www.targus.com/, http://www.handspring.com/, and retail outlets). The Stowaway, which retails for under $100, comes folded in a pouch the size of the Visor. Press one button and it pops open. Push the sides inward and you have a full-size keyboard. Pop out a small hookup on the top and you can easily attach your HPC. Together, the HPC and the Stowaway weigh less than a pound.

The Stowaway must be set on a flat surface. Another option is LandWare's GoType! keyboard, which has a rigid case and can sit on your lap, a table, or anywhere (http://www.landware.com/). GoType! is smaller than full-size, weighs less than 12 ounces, measures 10" x 4" x 1.5" and costs under $70. GoType! includes a free word processor and hooks directly to your desktop so you don't need to bring the cradle when you travel.

Using computer keyboards makes it difficult to keep your wrists straight and avoid a repetitive stress injury (RSI). The best way to avoid an RSI is to visit http://www.comfortlab.com/ and get a Comfort Glide, which keeps your wrists straight as you type and a Comfort Point that does the same for mouse movements. Regardless of whether you buy an HPC, you should visit Comfort Lab. Their products will help you avoid injuries that come from repetitive motions. Beware! RSIs are usually permanent, debilitating and painful. If your wrists feel sore, tingly or numb when you type, you need these devices.

Both the Visor and Palm have available software. On a recent trip to a software store, I counted at least 30 packages that turn an HPC into a power tool. Visit http://www.handspring.com/ and download any of their thousand or more programs. Some of these programs are free, while others charge a small amount. The process of downloading is easy and you get to try a program before you buy. I downloaded a spreadsheet called "Tiny Sheet" that I am going to buy for under $20. I also downloaded a few games -- all in the interest of reviewing the product, you understand!

Alas, I had to send my demo model of the Visor back to Handspring. I got so used to writing on it that I bought one for my wife and myself. It is truly an amazing technology that has already made my life easier.


Copyright, 2000, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.