New Pocket PCs cater to connected travelers

Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer unveiled a slew of new Pocket PCs Tuesday, all sporting the company's recently announced Pocket PC 2002 operating system for the downsized devices.

The eight new models range from sleek Compaq IPaqs and a new Cassiopeia, to "ruggedized" units from Intermet Technologies and Symbol Technologies. Toshiba used the occasion to launch its first-ever personal digital assistant, and Audiovox introduced the first Pocket PC-cell phone bundle.

Speaking to several hundred people at San Francisco's Concourse event hall, Ballmer said the new devices were designed to meet what Microsoft sees as a growing demand for PDAs (personal digital assistants) that are more than portable calendars and address books.

"The thing I put in my pocket has got to do more for me," Ballmer said. "It's got to let me access more information than just my appointments and contacts."

Finding familiar faces

The units launched today, along with a diverse assortment of peripherals and software packages, are designed with connected users in mind. Compaq's new IPaq H3800, for example, has a built-in Secure Digital (SD) card slot, as well as its predecessors' support for Compact Flash and PC Cards through a slide-on jacket.

The H3800 has 64MB of RAM and costs US$599, with integrated support for the Bluetooth wireless connectivity standard a $50 option. Another new IPaq, the $499 H3700, is similar to Compaq's existing 64MB IPaq, with a 4,096-color screen compared to the H3800's 65,536 colors.

Casio's E-200 has a Secure Digital and Multimedia Card (MMC) slot as well as a Compact Flash slot and support for PC Cards with an expansion pack. It has a 65,536-color TFT screen and 64MB of RAM, and retails for $599.

HP's previously announced Jornada 560 series features a 65,536-color screen and a built-in Compact Flash slot. At 6.1 ounces, it's the lightest of the models with a built-in CF slot. The Jornada 565, with 32MB of RAM, goes for $599; the 568, with 64MB,costs $649.

New vendors jump in

Toshiba's $569 e570 has both Compact Flash and SD slots built in, and also features 65,536-color screen, and 64MB of RAM. Another newcomer, the Audiovox Maestro, also has SD and CF slots and a 65,536-color screen, but only 32MB of RAM.

Initially, it will be sold by Verizon as a bundle with an Audiovox CDM-9100 tri-mode phone and a cable to use the phone as a modem for the PDA. An Audiovox spokesperson says that thanks to a Verizon subsidy, the bundle will cost about $400.

The Intermec and Symbol models target specific industries that require heavier, ruggedized devices and are only available in volume, with pricing dependent on quantity ordered.

Showing off software

In addition to the devices themselves, the launch event showcased several dozen peripherals and software packages.

Pharos, for example, has a new Pocket GPS Navigator kit that includes a GPS receiver, cables, and Ostia mapping software for the entire United States, for $249. Socket's line of Compact Flash connector modules now includes a $99 digital phone card (so you can use your digital phone as a modem for a Pocket PC) and a $179 Bluetooth card. Symbol announced a $179 CompactFlash 802.11b adapter.

Portsmith, which makes several ethernet cradles for Palm devices, plans to ship a model for Compaq IPaqs in November. The price will be $200-$220.

DDH Software, maker of the powerful HanDBase database application, will add the ability to sync with its desktop version in the new $29 HanDBase for Pocket PC 2002. The upgrade also includes an ODBC driver, which will allow synchronization with ODBC databases such as Microsoft Access.

ArcSoft expects to introduce ArcSoft PhotoBase for Pocket PC, a $30 image editing and managing application, later this year for $30.

Microsoft Money fans will be able to download a Pocket PC 2002 version of Money 2002 from the Money Web site on October 15, a spokesperson said.

Vindigo, which up to now has only offered its location-based consumer guides to Palm users, plans to launch a Pocket PC version by the end of October.

And, lest anyone think that Pocket PCs are only about business, a couple of vendors showed new entertainment-related products: Zio showed off games, and Karrier Communications showed off its Intelligolf golf score application.

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