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Vendors Optimistic Over Bluetooth Developments

Several new Bluetooth add-on products for handheld PCs were shown at Comdex last month, as suppliers began to express cautious optimism that the wireless technology will finally gain market acceptance.

Suppliers claimed that a recent flurry of Bluetooth cellphone introductions in Europe and a handful of introductions in the United States of similar cellphones, combined with falling prices on Bluetooth chipsets, is providing a much needed push for the new technology.

Simon Ellis, chairman of the Bluetooth Special Interest Group (SIG) said, “There’s been a lot of activity in Europe and it’s pretty easy to buy a Bluetooth phone over there,” although he notes the penetration is still less than 1 percent. Ellis says a recent study by Frost and Sullivan says a total of 19 million Bluetooth radios will sell in 2002, “so we’re going to start seeing an aggressive ramp over the next two to three years.”

He added, “The two significant things that have happened lately promoting some of the optimism are that suppliers are now quoting less than $5 for Bluetooth chips, and if you buy a phone and Bluetooth is built in, the user won’t see any difference in price. Secondly, there is now a belief that we have a stable technology defined by lots of testing. Some of the OS’s are now offering native support for Bluetooth including Pocket PC.”

Suppliers are still a bit cautious on racing to market with a technology that is not yet supported in the U.S. by more than a handful of Bluetooth ready cellular phones, printers and cameras.

Gary Shultz, director of Casio’s Mobile Information Products Division, said, “We will likely have an embedded Bluetooth model, probably in the near future. We’re just waiting for a larger installed base to build up.”

Sony, which began selling a Bluetooth module for the CLIE in Japan in July, said its approach in the U.S. is a bit more cautious. Manager of handheld marketing Ty Takayanagi noted, “We are studying the market, trying to see how it pans out, to see how many products will have Bluetooth. If we see the opportunity exists. It’s very easy to bring the same module to the U.S.”

At Comdex, TDK Systems unveiled the Blue M Bluetooth snap-on module for the Palm V, Vx, and m series models, m125, m500 and m505. The 1-ounce module, slimmer than the Palm, is available through TDK’s Web site for about $200.

TDK Systems of Europe displayed a Bluetooth Palm module and is looking for channel partners in the United States, and Red M announced a new Bluetooth module for Handspring devices. Compaq showed its new Pocket PC 3875, which is the first PDA with embedded Bluetooth capability.

Red-M debuted a Bluetooth module for Handspring Visor handhelds at Comdex under its Blade series name. The unit fits the Handspring Springboard expansion slot and allows e-mail access, synchronization for calendar and contacts and Internet or Intranet browsing, as well as the ability to communicate with other Bluetooth products. It also allows SMS messaging and auto dial contacts from a Visor. It is compatible with the visor Platinum Edge, Prism, Pro and Neo.

The unit joins a clip-on module for the Palm Vx that was introduced in August. The new Handspring Blade is available though the Web site at $179, while the Palm version carries an estimated price of $199.

Compaq will begin shipping the first Pocket PC with embedded Bluetooth capability this month (DEC). Called the model iPAQH3875, the new PocketPC 2002 unit has a 206MHz Intel StrongARM processor, a 65,000 color TFT screen and offers 64MB of RAM and 32 MB of ROM. It comes with an integrated SD slot and carries an estimated street price of $649. For its part, Palm is expected to ship a Bluetooth Secure Digital Input/Output (SDIO) card in early 2002. The card, originally slated for fourth-quarter delivery this year, is expected to carry a street price of $150.