NEC unveils PDA, Fujitsu to follow

NEC unveiled its PocketGear PDA (personal digital assistant) on Friday, at the same time as rival electronics maker Fujitsu announced it plans to enter the increasingly crowded PDA market.

The new NEC machine, like Fujitsu's planned product, is based on Microsoft's new Pocket PC 2002 operating system. The new software was unveiled hours earlier by Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive officer (CEO), at an event in San Francisco, where Ballmer restated Microsoft's commitment to the PDA market and reaffirmed his company's determination to beat off competition, at present mainly from Palm Inc.

Like many of its competitors, NEC chose to base its PDA on Intel's StrongARM processor running at 206MHz and not one of its own VR series microprocessors, which have powered some of NEC's Windows CE-based portable computers.

"Unlike personal computers, Pocket PC is still somewhat dependant on the hardware platform so we decided to use the StrongARM to ensure support with third-party software developed in Europe and the U.S.," said Kosuke Yamaouchi, a spokesman for NEC.

The PocketGear features a 3.8-inch color TFT (thin film transistor) LCD (liquid crystal display) capable of displaying 65,536 colors, 32M bytes of both ROM and RAM, slots for Compact Flash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) memory cards, a PC Card slot and IrDA infrared interface.

These features are largely in line with many of the other Pocket PC 2002-based machines already announced and leave little to choose between models from the various manufacturers, which include Compaq Computer., Toshiba and Casio Computer.

Physical specifications too are similar to other Pocket PC 2002 machines: the PocketGear weighs 190 grams and measures 126 by 78 by 18.5 millimeters.

NEC plans to begin selling the PocketGear in Japan on November 30 for under 60,000 yen (US$500), said Yamaouchi. The company has pegged initial monthly production at 8,000 units and plans to sell the PDA worldwide, although the spokesman did not have details of overseas launch plans.

As NEC was disclosing details of the PocketGear, Fujitsu threw its hat into the ring with the announcement that it plans to launch a PDA sometime in the first three months of 2002. Few other details were offered by the company except that it will be based on Pocket PC 2002 operating system and will go on sale in Japan, Europe, North America and Asia.

The two companies are but the latest Japanese electronics makers to turn to the PDA market in hopes of finding a profit. Sharp had led the domestic market for several years with its Zaurus line of PDAs and managed to hold its own despite the arrival of foreign competitors like Palm, Compaq and Handspring Inc.

Things started to change last year when Sony launched its Palm OS-based Clie, and competition increased further earlier this year when Toshiba debuted its first PDA. With the arrival of NEC, the imminent arrival of Fujitsu, and products from other vendors already in the market, such as Casio Computer, competition is expected to get more intense.

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Martyn Williams

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