What is a Pocket PC PDA?

John Lister

A Pocket PC PDA is a type of personal digital assistant that runs the Windows Mobile operating system. Such devices offer some of the features of a full-fledged computer in a pocket-sized format. They have largely become outdated thanks to the widespread availability of affordable smartphones that offer similar features along with communications.

A Pocket PC PDA is a type of personal digital assistant that runs Windows Mobile operating system.
A Pocket PC PDA is a type of personal digital assistant that runs Windows Mobile operating system.

While "pocket computer" is a generic phrase, a Pocket PC PDA meets a specific hardware specification laid down by Microsoft. This means it runs the Pocket PC edition of Windows Mobile and has several specific applications pre-installed. To be classed as a Pocket PC PDA, the device must also have a touchscreen and directional pad.

The Pocket PC PDA dates back to 2000, though similar devices already existed, often using then name Palm-size PC. This name had no connection with the mobile phone company Palm. Significant developments in the Pocket PC format included the release of pocket versions of Microsoft applications such as Internet Explorer, Windows Media Player and Office in 2003.

The Pocket PC name has not officially been in use for new devices since 2007, with the release of Windows Mobile 6. Since then, handheld devices running the mobile edition of Windows carry one of three names. Those without a phone are known as Windows Mobile Classic devices. Those with a phone are called Windows Mobile Professional devices if they have a touchscreen and Windows Mobile Standard devices if they don't. This naming convention was due to be replaced in late 2010 with the release of a new edition of Microsoft's mobile system, with devices with a phone rebranded as Windows Phone.

Many Pocket PC PDA devices used Microsoft's ActiveSync technology. This consisted of two systems for transferring data to and from mobile devices. Desktop ActiveSync synchronized data between a device and a specific desktop computer. Exchange ActiveSync synchronized data between multiple mobile devices and a server. This allowed businesses to set up the system so that e-mails could be redirected straight to the recipient's portable device.

Pocket PCs were among the earliest handheld devices for which independently developed applications were available. These included a wide range of freeware apps that were released without charge. There was also a surprisingly large number of games designed for such devices.

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