HP preparing the next wave of wireless iPaqs

HP is getting ready to overhaul its lineup of wireless PDAs, according to information on its Web site.

Hewlett-Packard Co. is readying several new versions of its iPaq wireless personal digital assistants that will also feature a new version of Microsoft's mobile operating system, according to details of the new products posted on Web sites for HP in both the US and the UK.

The HP iPaq hw6510 and hw6515 are not yet available in the U.S., but are available in Europe, as pointed out by a presentation on HP's U.K. Web site promoting the new models. However, a link from that presentation on Wednesday also contained specifications for an unannounced series of products, the hw6700 iPaqs.

The information about the hw6700 iPaqs had been removed from the site by Thursday. Sources familiar with HP's plans expect the hw6700 devices, with more storage and WiFi capabilities, to launch next January, around the time Microsoft releases an updated version of its Windows Mobile 2005 operating system.

An HP spokesman declined to comment on the hw6700 iPaqs, but said the hw6500 series iPaqs are currently available in Asia-Pacific and EMEA (Europe, the Middle East, and Africa) and will be released "shortly" in the U.S.

The hw6510 and hw6515 are the second-generation of HP's efforts to turn the iPaq into a PDA/mobile phone hybrid. With newer mobile phones capable of storing contacts and calendar appointments, fewer and fewer handheld users are buying stand-alone PDAs. Instead, shipments of devices like Palm's Treo 650, Research in Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry 7100, and HP's h6300 series devices are on the upswing, according to data from Gartner.

The first product released by HP for this market, the h6315, received a number of favorable reviews at launch. However, users complained that while the device made for a powerful PDA, it was underwhelming as a phone. HP released a software fix in April to address some of the phone connectivity problems as well as problems with the device's Bluetooth short-range networking technology.

HP added a built-in keyboard and an integrated GPS (Global Positioning System) navigation system to the hw6500 series iPaqs, which were launched in Europe last month.

The hw6500 series iPaqs come with Intel's PXA270 XScale processor at 312MHz, 64M bytes of ROM and 64M bytes of SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), a SD (Secure Digital) expansion card slot, and a three-inch display. The hw6515 comes with a digital camera, while the hw6510 does not. U.S. pricing information was not immediately available, although the devices cost £365 (AU$854) on HP's U.K. Web site.

HP's U.K. Web site also lists two iPaqs in the thus-far unannounced product family hw6700 series. Those devices come with an integrated 802.11g chip for connecting to WiFi networks, something not available on the hw6500 series or the BlackBerry and Treo products. HP's original h6300 devices came with a WiFi chip. The 6700 series devices also come with 128M bytes of ROM and Microsoft's Windows Mobile 2005 Second Edition operating system.

Windows Mobile 2005 was launched in May, but the hw6700 iPaqs will come with an updated version of that operating system in January, sources said. The International Consumer Electronics Show takes place every January in Las Vegas, and is one of the primary stages for new products in the IT industry.

HP's work on wireless PDAs sets it apart from its rival Dell, which sells PDAs but has not yet released one of its Axim PDAs with phone capabilities, said Sam Bhavnani, principal analyst with Current Analysis. HP's recent addition of former Palm chief executive officer Todd Bradley to run its PC and handheld division gives weight to the notion that HP is far ahead of Dell when it comes to handheld product development and relationships with wireless carriers, he said.

HP also has the ear of IT managers at large corporations in a way that fellow wireless PDA and smart phone vendors like Palm and Nokia do not. RIM's BlackBerry device is extremely popular with corporate IT departments and users, but many analysts expect RIM to downplay its hardware product development over the next few years to concentrate on licensing the BlackBerry push e-mail software.

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