Toshiba unveils Windows-based PDA

Toshiba Corp. entered the competitive market for PDAs (personal digital assistants) on Monday, unveiling what it claims to be the world's smallest and lightest Pocket PC device that will go on sale in Japan on Aug. 20 and is expected to hit U.S. shores by the end of the year and Europe in the beginning of the next year.

The Genio e550, which will get its first public unveiling on Tuesday at Tokyo's Wireless Japan 2001 Expo, uses Microsoft Corp.'s Windows CE operating system and comes with both Compact Flash and Secure Digital expansion slots. This will allow users to use one slot for additional memory and the other for a wireless connection, said Ed Suwanjundar, product manager with Microsoft's Mobility Group.

The new product is initially targeted at high-end users and corporations, but the company also hopes to push the device into the mass market for entertainment. The expansion is planned through future actions such as lowering prices or offering content for PDA users.

"This year is the beginning of broadband era (in Japan)," said Tetsuya Mizoguchi, a senior executive managing director at Toshiba's Mobile Communications division. "In this year, we hope to lead the way to establish a large PDA market in Japan."

"Toshiba started notebook PCs," said Mizoguchi. Now, the company hopes "to catch up and overtake the U.S." in the PDA field. The PDA market in Japan is currently smaller than that in the U.S.

The new device includes a 3.5-inch (8.9 centimeter), 65,536 color reflective TFT (thin-film transistor) display, 32M bytes of memory and support for both MP3 audio and MPEG4 video. It offers up to eight hours of battery life and weighs less than half a pound (180 grams), Microsoft said. Pricing for the product is expected to be around 70,000 yen (US$561) in Japan, said Naotake Kurotsu, vice president of mobile communication at Toshiba.

"It uses a reflective-matrix display; it looks very similar to the iPaq display," Suwanjundar said. The iPaq is Compaq Computer Corp.'s Pocket PC device.

The Genio uses Intel Corp.'s 206MHz StrongArm processor, the chip used in the iPaq and Hewlett-Packard Co.'s Jornada Pocket PC. Sharp Corp.'s upcoming Linux-based PDA and ViewSonic Corp.'s recently announced ViewPad 100 also use the 206MHz StrongArm.

In addition, Toshiba plans to sell a Bluetooth SD (secure digital) Card, which will allow the device to wirelessly connect to other electronic products, such as cell phones, PCs and projectors. The card is expected to go on sale in the third quarter this year, the company announced at a press conference.

Toshiba's entry will bring the number of companies using Microsoft's operating system for handheld computers to 14, Suwanjundar said. Many of those devices are available only in Europe because they use the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) standard, which is prevalent there, he added.

Toshiba will compete with PDAs from the likes of Compaq, Casio Computer Co. Ltd. and HP, all of which offer handhelds based on Microsoft's software, and from Palm Inc., Handspring Inc. and Sony Corp., which have systems based on Palm's operating system.

At least one vendor is retreating from the market, however. Psion PLC announced this week that it will move away from the handheld computer market, which is described as "completely saturated," meaning too many vendors are battling for users. At the end of September, Toshiba is also set for the Japanese launch of the e550/MD, which will feature a built-in Microdrive from IBM Corp. that stores a whopping 1G byte of data. The price for this model will be around 100,000 yen, the company said.

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