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Vendors Jump On Pocket PC 2002 Bandwagaon

San Francisco – Prompted by the success of the Compaq iPAQ a slew of companies announced their allegence to the Pocket PC camp and introduced handheld devices that utilize the Microsoft operating system.

These companies, which include Audiovox, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and Samsung, unveiled their products at a Microsoft-hosted event showcasing the newest version of that company’s Pocket PC 2002 operating system. Many of the companies are offering full-featured PDAs with reflective color screens and differentiated feature sets, though it remains to be seen if the market can tolerate so many newcomers.

Audiovox and Samsung will stress wireless connectivity, with the former offering a new PDA as a bundle with its CDM-9100 mobile phone, to be sold mainly through wireless carriers.

Samsung announced it will offer a Pocket PC with a built-in wireless phone next year, according to Reuters. For its part, Toshiba is reportedly bundling their Pocket PC with a 1GB Microdrive.

Analyst Alex Slawsby for International Data Corp., Framingham, Mass., likened the influx of new Pocket PC contenders to ‘Moths to a flame.’ He said, ‘People have seen the success of iPAQ’s shipments and Pocket PC has gotten a lot of media coverage and everyone is saying, `hey, we have to be there.’ So about a dozen vendors announced product.’

Slawsby said the introductions, which coincide with a launch event for Microsoft’s Pocket PC 2002 here, serve to bolster the Pocket PCs current momentum over the Palm OS. ‘It’s a positive for the Pocket PC [category] because there’s more options out there. Palm needs to respond. They either have to focus on the enterprise and deliver, or let the high end go to the Power PC and take everything below that.’

Others questioned how the market can absorb so many new models, particularly at the high end, at a time when corporate sales are stalled in an uncertain economy.

‘The bulk of the business is in the $100 to $300 range, and Microsoft and their partners don’t necessarily play there. Palm has six or seven units; Sony has several; Handspring has a handful. So there are over a dozen units on the Palm side and there’s all the old Pocket PCs. So the question is, how is the customer going to decide?’ asked consultant Larry Reich of Digital Age Communications, Westfield, N.J.

Many companies were expected to announce Pocket PC 2002 models at a Microsoft press event that was scheduled for late last week, when TWICE went to press, including current vendors Compaq, Casio and Hewlett Packard.

Early reports on the new Pocket PCs are as follows:

Audiovox is entering the Pocket PC market with the Maestro – a 32MB model that is designed to work with the Audiovox CDM-9100 wireless phone for Internet access. The Maestro has a Strong ARM 206 MHz processor, built-in Compact Flash (CF) and SD card slots and reflective type color TFT screen. Audiovox is offering the product as a bundle-only initially along with its trimode CDM-9100 phone bundle. The Maestro interfaces with the phone via a simple cable connection. It will be sold through Verizon and possibly other cellular carriers, and through select stores, such as Radio Shack, The Wiz and PC Richards & Sons. Suggested retail price for the Maestro and CDM-9100 package is $649, although carriers may offer subsidized pricing.

Casio is launching one of the more versatile Pocket PC 2002 models, called the Cassiopeia E-200. It allows simultaneous use of a CF, MMC/CF slot and PC card with an optional adapter, and allows USB connectivity to a full sized PC keyboard, printer or digital camera. It will be Bluetooth and 802.11b enabled. The unit is Casio’s first to offer a reflective 65,000-color screen, similar to the iPAQ’s. It is expected to ship in November at a retail price of $599.

Hewlett-Packard is offering new accessories for its Pocket PC 2002 models Jornada 565 and 568, which were announced in September. These include a PC card and MMC/SD adapter that connects to the built-in Type 1 CF card extended slot at a suggested price of $149.

For its part, Toshiba is offering a PDA with a CF and SD drive called the Genio.

Among the long list of vendors announcing new Pocket PC handhelds at a Microsoft press event today were Acer, Audiovox, Compaq, Casio, Fujitsu, Hewlett Packard, NEC, Samsung, Toshiba.

Compaq debuted two new iPAQ series, including the H3800 which adds a Secure Digital (SD) slot, improved TFT screen with more the 65,000 colors and which offers 64MB of RAM. One of the models, the H3870 also has a built in Bluetooth wireless pack.

The iPAQ Pocket PC H3700 comes with 64MB of internal memory and is expected to be available next week at $499. The H3800 models will be available in mid-November at $599 and the step up H3870 with built in Bluetooth will sell for $699, said the company.

A wireless pack for GSM/GPRS Networks was also introduced by Compaq. It will enable always on Internet access, WAP browsing, email, SMS messaging and phone calls. It has four hours of talk time and 180 hours of standby time and is expected to ship in December.

Toshiba’s new model is reportedly a downsized unit about the size of a Palm III. Called the Genio it is expected to offer 64MB of RAM and both SD and CF expansion slots at an estimated retail price of approximately $599.

Acer announced it will support Pocket PC 2002 and NEC said it will introduce a new ‘advanced’ corporate-aimed PDA by the end of the year. Fujitsu also announced plans to target the corporate IT space with a Pocket PC.

In other PDA news, the Palm camp announced new price reductions. Palm lowered the price of its m100 and m125 low end PDAs today to $99 and $149 respectively. This follows a recent $100 price drop by Handspring on the color Visor Prism to $299.