WASHINGTON -- Brett Bendickson, a Web site developer at the University of Arizona, says he couldn't get along without his handheld computer. He reads magazine articles on it, writes down ideas and downloads every piece of interesting new software he can find.
"I've used it while on the road to log in and check e-mail and even to restart production systems," he boasts of his Palm IIIe.
With faster, more expandable and more useful handheld computers on the market, more Americans are opting for a pocket-size gadget costing a few hundred dollars rather than lug around a laptop computer that can cost a hefty $2,000.
Finding one to buy may be the hardest part of all.
Palm Inc., the nation's largest manufacturer of handhelds, is exceeding its own rosy sales projections, and is experiencing nationwide supply problems because of the demand.
"Even with our strong performance, demand for Palm products still outstripped supply in an environment of industrywide component shortages," Carl Yankowski, Palm's CEO, said in an earnings briefing.
The explosion in popularity of handheld computers has closely tracked the devices' increased functionality.
The earliest generation of Palms were little more than electronic Rolodexes -- with an address book, calculator and memo pad for note-taking. They couldn't be used by workers for such routine tasks as accessing the corporate network and reading e-mail.
The latest generation from Palm, Handspring Inc. and vendors using Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC operating system have added all sorts of attachments, including telephone and wireless modems that allow their owners to write and receive e-mail and faxes, send and receive pages, download files and even browse the Web. The only limitation is the amount of data that can be viewed at once.
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