Dell readies new PDA, Smartphone

Dell Computer Corp. has revealed that the next generation of its Axim handheld will include both Wi-Fi and triband radios, signaling a new wave of mobile productivity. In addition, an executive at the company's headquarters here said Dell plans to develop a device based on Microsoft Corp.'s Smartphone platform.

The next generation Axim will allow users to switch between Wi-Fi networks and CDMA or GSM networks. Due out in 2004, the device will likely support 802.11g, which offers backward compatibility with 802.11b and speeds of up to 31Mbps.

The Axim will also include Bluetooth to permit synchronization with client devices, including notebooks, said Anthony Bonadero, Dell's director of wireless product marketing, during a set of exclusive briefings arranged for InfoWorld here this week.

"You could call it a Pocket PC(-based) GoodLink or BlackBerry device," Bonadero explained. "When we went out the door with Good (Technology as a new partner) a couple of months back, we made it very clear we are working with them as well as others to define the next generation of products."

Whether Dell becomes one of the first vendors to ship a device that caters to both Wi-Fi and public switched networks is problematic, according to David Hayden, principal analyst at MobileInsights in Palo Alto, Calif.

"Motorola (Inc.) and Proxim (Inc.) are in a deal to do just about the same thing," Hayden said.

The real question is whether there are any practical applications that need this capability. "There are so many different vendors of hot spots that if you have to sign up for your cellular plan, your T-Mobile plan, and your Boingo plan in order to use this, is it really cost-justified?" Hayden said.

On the plus side, Hayden said it will benefit enterprise sales people that need both networks to negotiate the intricacies of closing a major deal, for example.

Dell's vision is to see the Axim become a mainstream mobile device, with its release timed to coincide with advances in mobile networks. "We see the 2.5G network really starting to mature. GSM is our first choice (for support) because of global reach. CDMA is also an alternative," Bonadero said.

In addition to supporting Microsoft's PocketPC operating system, the next generation Axim will have a multiday battery life, Bonadero said. On the processor side, Dell will not attempt to reinvent the wheel. "We're not talking about a single chip solution which would be the kind of innovative thing if you were to mix Wi-Fi technology with GSM and CDMA radio technology on a single silicon chip," he said.

Bonadero said users will be able to choose whether to "populate or depopulate" the device with either or both radios, depending on their data or voice needs.

"We do think that this device has to have the ability to browse -- internet capabilities -- and it has to have voice capabilities," Bonadero said.


Meanwhile, Bonadero said Dell is likely to release a cell phone based on Microsoft's Smartphone. He joked that companies typically wait for Microsoft to get to the third release of an operating system before adoption. The same will most likely be true of Dell's support for Smartphone, he said.

"Version one (of Smartphone) does good things with data, but it's not so good for voice," Bonadero said. "If Microsoft keeps focusing on it, they will get it right."

Other details about Dell's forthcoming Smartphone, including availability and pricing, were not available.

Dell's wireless strategy has to date been focused on driving business back to core product lines, including servers, PCs, and notebooks. However, Bonadero said the company has started investing more internal resources on mobile and wireless product given its profitability on a per-unit basis.

"We didn't know these sorts of margins still existed in computers," Bonadero said of Dell's foray into PDAs with the Axim.

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