Lower Cost PDAs Bow From Casio, Sony

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In the aftermath of recent Palm and Handspring price cuts of up to $100, suppliers here at PC Expo are following the general trend by launching new products with trimmed down features or other cost-cutting measures.

The new Casio Cassiopeia BE-300 debuting at the show uses only the core kernel Windows CE 3.0 operating system and overlays the unit with Casio software, creating the lowest price Windows CE-based color PDA on the market at $300, according to Casio.

Director of the Mobile Information Products Division Gary Shultz says by adding the Casio software, the unit retains the functionality of its full Pocket PCs, including a digital audio player with MP3 and WMP and Internet browser. The unit has a proprietary interface but "retains the performance of the Pocket PC in terms of connectivity with Windows PCs, expandability and rich application support," Shultz said. Casio expects worldwide shipments of the product to reach 500,000 units during the current fiscal year and 1 million shipments within a year.

Shultz said the new product strategy was to develop a product in the $200 to $300 range, where Casio had a gap in its product line, but where almost 35 percent of PDA sales are transacted.

The 16MB BE-300 has a USB/Serial Connector, a CompactFlash card slot (Type II), and optional PC Card unit that accepts expansion modules (including memory cards, camera cards and wireless modems). It uses a 32,768 color screen at 320 x 240 pixels.

To promote the BE-300 platform, Casio is supplying a software development kit to independent software and hardware vendors (ISV/IHV) for the development of third-party software and peripherals for the product.

The company will also launch in September a mycasio.com Web portal for downloading content automatically formatted to a user's particular Casio PDA.

For its part, Sony is launching a lower cost version of its recently released color CLIE. The new model strips out the MP3 player but retains the 320 x 320 resolution color screen (which Sony claims is the highest quality color screen available for a Palm OS device). Called the CLIE PEG-N610C, it has 8MB of memory, jog dial, Memory Stick slot and it is based on the new Palm 4.0 OS with support for additional colors. The new N610C will ship in early August with an estimated price of $400.

Also new from Sony is a replacement for the original monochrome CLIE. Called the CLIE PEG-S320, it has the Palm OS 4.0, 160 x 160 resolution screen, jog dial and Memory Stick slot, and sports cosmetic changes from the original PEG-S300 CLIE handheld. It will carry an estimated price of $200. Sony will also unveil a new wireless service for the CLIE at PC Expo called MYLO (My Life Online) with pricing and further details to be announced.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Handspring launched a new trade-in program for handheld PCs toward the purchase of the company's new Visor Edge.

From June 8 through July 1, owners of any handheld PDA, working or non-working, may send in their unit to Handspring and receive a $100 rebate on a Visor Edge, which typically carries a $399 suggested list price.

Customers who own an old Handspring Visor model do not have to send in the product. They may simply key in the product's serial number at the Handspring.com Web site and then order the Edge from the site for the discounted $299 price. Handspring is encouraging these users to give the old Handspring to a friend and users must also name the person who will receive the old Visor when applying for the discount at Handspring.com.

Other users must send in their old handhelds after purchasing the Edge at the standard price and then receive a $100 rebate in the mail.

A Handspring spokesman said any PDA qualifies for the rebate. "As long as it's got a datebook and it's not a calculator."

Danger is offering a new type of wireless handheld and Internet service, which it claims will deliver faster and simpler Internet access than existing handhelds, the company said.

The company has developed a reference platform for handhelds, which it is seeking to sell to consumer electronics and computer suppliers. The platform includes both Internet service and hardware design and is suited for wireless technologies including CDPD, GSM and 2, 2.5 and 3G networks. Danger said it expects to see announcements from suppliers for the product and service by Christmas.

The Danger devices will be comparable in size to a Palm III and will be optimized for HTML Web browsing, instant messaging, and e-mail with attachments, with a thumb keyboard similar to a Research In Motion (RIM) device. The unit will also include Personal Information Management with functions typical of other handhelds.

"It is designed for radio technology that is always on, so you don't have to manually log it. It's always in communication with the Danger service, which can always push things to the device," said senior VP of hardware and operations Matt Hershenson.

Danger estimates the device will cost in the neighborhood of $200 and the service will carry a fee of approximately $24.95.

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