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Strong Handheld PC Market Receives Boost With Comdex Introduction

Handheld PC players Hewlett-Packard, Compaq and Casio report strong sales this fall, despite the shakeout of Philips and Goldstar from the Windows CE market.

Recent price cuts and the wealth of press surrounding the launch of competitor 3Com’s Palm VII has helped spark interest in the entire category, suppliers say. And several factors have been put in place — a fact that could spur future sales.

Frank Varela, Compaq’s handheld product marketing manager for North America, said sales have gained in the past couple of months, due primarily to price cuts.

“Everybody’s press [attention] has made the market broader. It opened up everyone’s eyes to what these products can do. Even when Palm VII came out, we were almost always mentioned in the same breath, so people are really starting to look at the category,” he said

Varela did admit that the ramping of the WinCE category has been slow.

“I anticipated that the commercial side would grow faster than it has, and retail was slower than we thought, but its really started to pick up in the last two months,” he said. “People have had time to evaluate the product and we’ve taken some price actions. We’ve done a lot in advertising and promotion to drive sales.”

Casio continues to fight back-order problems on its Cassiopeia and Personal Viewer handhelds and insisted that competition from the Palm VII has not had a negative impact on sales.

“I don’t see that sales have slowed at all. We’re still beating the numbers,” Casio president Gary Rado said.

He projected sales on the WinCE front picking up as the devices go wireless.

“Microsoft continues to improve the CE operating system and I think that will continue,” Rado said. “And as the products head into the corporations, and as it becomes truly wireless — access any time, anywhere — then CE will become very important because most of the desktops are running Microsoft Word or 2000 and this synchronizes with them.”

Palm handhelds are making inroads into the corporate market, but through individual purchases by employees rather than the corporate purchasing department.

Rado predicted handheld sales will switch to the traditional sales model when they go wireless because corporations will want wireless access to their LANs.

“I think that will happen in the next 18 months,” he said.

Kevin Haver, technical marketing manager for HP’s Jornada said, “We’re quite happy with WinCE and how it does.” HP does equally well in the commercial and retail segments and all WinCE form factors, including handhelds, Jupiter class and Palm-size PCs, are performing well, he said.

Some of the new handheld products on display this week at Comdex include the new Psion Series 7 (U.S. version), Revo and a new HP Jornada 690 Windows CE-based handheld.

The new HP Jornada 690 is nearly identical to the current Jornada 680 but features 32MB of RAM. It offers a 6.5-inch display with over 65,000 colors, 76% normal-size keyboard and docking station. Weighing 1.1 pounds, the Jornada 690 has a 133MHz processor and an eight-hour battery life.

The 690 is expected to ship in late November with an estimated street price of $999. The Jornada 680 will continue to be available for an estimated street price of $899.

Psion’s new Series 7 is an EPOCH-based handheld that incorporates a 100MHz StrongARM processor, a lithium-ion rechargeable battery and 16MB of memory, which is expandable to 32MB. It has a CompactFlash card and type II PC and will begin shipping this month through at $899.

Psion’s Revo is a pocket-sized keyboard-based organizer with e-mail and Internet access capability. The 7-ounce handheld uses an ARM 710 processor and has a touch-sensitive 480 x 160 wide screen display. It includes a full suite of professional class applications at an estimated street price of $399.

Also new from Vadem is the C1050 PC companion Jupiter class handheld. A swing-top design allows the screen to be viewed at different angles and adds the capability to switch from portrait to landscape modes. It has 32MB of RAM, a 56K-hardware modem, lithium-ion battery and 9.4-inch 640 x 480 screen with 65,000 colors at an estimated street price of $999.