As the format set by the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association becomes more popular, makers of PCMCIA cards are exploring a whole range of mobile computing possibilities. Handheld scanner, video camera, bar-code reader and CD-rom drive are just some of the options. Cards are even available to access navigational and geographical data from the US military's $12bn (£7.8bn) satellite-based Global Positioning System. (Portable Add-ons, a leading supplier, offers a £716 GPS card with a satellite receiver and road-mapping software to ensure you never lose your way.)
More traditional types of card are being adapted to meet new needs. Card-based hard disks are now available with capacities of 260Mb - enough to allow users to carry their entire portfolio of work and files from one PC to another. As businesses move towards teleworking and hot-desking, such portability could become crucial.
The same disks are being used to store medical records, with each card able to store a patient's full medical history, including X-rays and photos.
Associated Press and Kodak have a product based on a Nikon camera that uses a PCMCIA disk to collect around 100 full-colour pictures plus three minutes of voice annotation. AP photographers can then transmit the disk's data via satellite. A consumer version may be developed, allowing users to view their snaps via any PC, or TV-linked reader device with a PCMCIA slot.
Meanwhile, network adaptors and modems are going wireless. Xircom's forthcoming NetWave card offers cordless network connection for mobile users up to 50 metres from its node unit, while users of certain Nokia GSM mobile phones can use a card to send andreceive data from their portable PCs across the Vodaphone Data service.
At present, PCMCIA cards are not the most user-friendly devices in the world. Only milk cartons, the M25 and screaming babies have been known to induce the level of stress caused by trying to configure a PCMCIA card. Even the association's founder has admitted it took him five hours to get a fax/modem card to work in his laptop. But it's getting easier. Instead of having to configure cards themselves, users can now leave the job to the PC's operating system: IBM's OS/2 Warp includes a PlayAtWill utility, Microsoft's Windows 95 will have Plug and Play, both dealing with gadgets entirely automatically.
Price is also becoming less of a barrier. You still pay a premium for PCMCIA, but for modems and network adaptors the premium is becoming negligible. Combination cards are especially good value.
Cost becomes even less of an issue when you consider what the new cards can do. It's got to be worth £700 just to see the look on your fellow commuters' faces when you unfurl your satellite receiver and inform them exactly where the train has come to a grinding halt.Reuse content