HP to add fingerprint scanner, WLAN to new iPaq PDA

Hewlett-Packard Co. is preparing a series of iPaq PDAs (personal digital assistants) with a built-in fingerprint scanner and WLAN (wireless LAN) support, according to documents filed by the product's maker with the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

The "iPaq Pocket PC h5400 series" machines were detailed in a filing by South Korea's LG Electronics Inc. Because they transmit radio signals as part of their WLAN and Bluetooth personal area networking functions, the PDAs need FCC approval before they can be sold in the U.S.

The 5400 series models are technically similar in many ways to the company's current iPaq 3900 series and are based on the same Intel Corp. PXA250 XScale processor running at 400MHz.

The biggest change comes in the addition of a fingerprint scanner and WLAN support.

The fingerprint scanner is located in the lower part of the PDA's face between the four function buttons and underneath the main control button. It is a thin bar that can only scan a portion of the user's finger and so requires the user to swipe his or her finger over the sensor so that the whole fingerprint can be captured -- an operation that takes between 1 and 2 seconds. The scanner is a thermal type, which means it measures the minute temperature differences between the hills and valleys of the user's fingertip.

The addition of a fingerprint scanner will likely be welcomed by many users, especially as the security of computers and personal and company data moves further into the spotlight. It is one of several log-in options available to users of the new PDA, according to the manual. The others are a simple 4-digit PIN (personal identification number), strong alphanumeric password or combination of these, such as a fingerprint scan and password.

The WLAN function, which appears to be standard across all models in the range, supports up to 128-bit WEP (wired equivalent privacy) encryption, according to the PDA's provisional manual.

HP might be making a change to the amount of memory available in the PDAs, too. The specifications submitted to the FCC, dated July 2002, specify "64MB or greater" user memory suggesting configurations above 64M bytes will be available. No models in the 3900 series have more than 64M bytes of memory.

Otherwise, functions are similar to the 3900 series models, which the company is currently selling. The 5400 series models have a similar transreflective LCD (liquid crystal display) capable of 240 pixel by 320 pixel resolution and 64K colors, have a Secure Digital (SD) memory card slot with support for SDIO peripherals and have an infrared port that enables the PDA to act as a remote control for consumer electronics, according to the documents.

Like the current models, support for Bluetooth wireless networking is built into some models.

Further details of the PDAs were not immediately available. However, a spokesperson for the company in Tokyo said they are expected to hit the U.S. market before the end of this year.

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