Sharp Rejoins U.S. Handheld Market


San Jose, Calif - Sharp officially unveiled its new Linux/JAVA-based Zaurus SL-5500 handheld PC yesterday, marking its return to the U.S. handheld market.

Scheduled to ship in the first quarter next year, the new handheld is one of the first to use the Linux/JAVA operating system (OS) exclusively, and it is unique in that it combines a slide out keyboard with pen based form factor.

Sharp is also teaming up with Aether Systems to offer wireless access service and Sharp says the Zaurus will be compatible with several Compact Flash add-on cards including Bluetooth, 802.11b and other modems.

Sharp associate VP of the Mobile Solutions and IT Group, Steve Petix says the company strategy is to offer more out of the box features than the Pocket PC but at a competitive pricing.

The new Zaurus-SL5500 uses an Intel 206MHz StrongARM processor, with 64Mb of RAM; 65,000 color reflective screen and both CompactFlash (CF) and Secure Digital (SD) expansion slots. In addition to the slide out full QWERTY keyboard, it has pen touch operation and handwriting recognition. Other features include an MP3 and MPEG1 player that allows playback of a full movie as well as music.

Sharp claims Linux and JAVA are gaining in usage, with over 30,000 applications now available on Linux (which can be easily ported to a handheld). The company says the open code of Linux and JAVA will encourage development of useful applications for the Zaurus, but Petix notes, 'Our plan is not to focus on the OS but on applications, including out of the box compatibility and synchronization with Outlook to view and edit office suite software. We have a fully functional PIM and also out of the box multimedia compatibility for MP3 and MPEG 1 and 2. '

At the time of launch, Sharp says a low profile CDPD CF modem will be available as well as 802.11b and Bluetooth cards with additional wireless network solutions to follow in the second quarter. Along with Aether systems the company will also develop wireless service plans including behind the firewall Exchange and Lotus Notes synchronization so PIM information and corporate email can be synchronized wirelessly.

Although Sharp did not disclose an estimated retail price, industry members expect the unit to fall in the $499 range.

Alex Slawsby, smart device analyst for International Data Corp. (IDC), Framingham, MA.

notes that while the unit costs less than a Pocket PC in a feature per feature comparison it remains to be seen if it will gain market acceptance over brands such as the iPAQ. 'How are you going to sell the Enterprise when no one is writing for Linux? Sharp's solution is to link up with Aether Systems but I don't know how significant the volumes will be. It's cheaper for the features but its not that much cheaper so Sharp is breaking some new ground. Whether there's an uptake remains to be seen.'


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