personal digital assistant (PDA), lightweight, hand-held computer designed for use as a personal organizer with communications capabilities; also called a handheld. A typical PDA has no keyboard, relying instead on special hardware and pen-based computer software to enable the recognition of handwritten input, which is entered on the surface of a liquid crystal display screen. In addition to including such applications as a word processor, spreadsheet, calendar, and address book, PDAs are used as notepads, appointment schedulers, and wireless communicators for sending and receiving data, faxes, and electronic-mail messages. Introduced in 1993, PDAs achieved only modest acceptance during the remainder of the decade due to their relatively high price and limited applications, but improved software and lower prices subsequently led to more widespread use. In the early 21st cent., however, smartphones (see cellular telephone) equipped with a wide range of applications supplanted PDAs. See also palmtop.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.