SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - Microsoft Corp.'s new challenge to Palm Inc. finally debuts today, sporting a built-in Web browser and slim hardware running an update of Windows CE. But most of the snazzy new designs won't show up until summer--and you may not really want all the stuff inside.
The Pocket PC, to be unveiled at a shindig in New York's Grand Central Station, wraps the new Windows CE 3.0 operating system inside new hardware from Casio, Hewlett-Packard, Compaq, and Symbol Technologies. Standard are a CompactFlash slot, Univeral Serial Bus support, and pocket-sized Windows applications.
Hardware Merges New, Old
Only Hewlett-Packard has new hardware ready at launch. Available for $499 (with 16MB of memory) and $599 (with 32MB of memory), the HP Jornada 540 series offers a smaller, sleeker package than its Windows CE predecessors. The design is reminiscent of Palm.
The Jornada 540 has a flip cover like the Palm V and IIIc. Built into its cover is a shapely stylus, difficult to find initially but a nifty design. HP estimates you'll get 8 hours of continuous use from the rechargeable lithium-ion battery, the same figure promised for the Palm IIIc. Compaq ups that figure to 12 hours for its upcoming Pocket PC, while Casio promises 76 hours of use with its unreleased device.
HP expects to add wireless accessories for Circuit Data/Packet Data, General Packet Radio Service, and Global System for Mobile communication networks. It will also add a CompactFlash Type I Bluetooth module for wireless Internet access via cellular phones, as well as links to other Bluetooth devices.
You can buy a Compaq Pocket PC now only as a software update to the existing Compaq Aero 1500. The $299 monochrome device runs the full Pocket PC Professional software, says John Brandewie, Compaq handhelds product marketing manager.
In June, Compaq expects to ship the new H3650 through IPaq, its Internet appliance division.
"All Aeros will be rebranded under IPaq," says Ted Clark, vice president of Compaq iAppliances division. Aero customers can upgrade to the Pocket PC operating system.
The H3650 has a sleek, silver design that is close to the Palm's size. Its reflective TFT display supports indoor and outdoor lighting. The unit has a built-in voice recorder, and like Handspring's Springboard module, the H3650 has an expansion platform: Jacketlike expansion packs slide onto the Pocket PC.
Scheduled to ship with the H3650 are a $149 PC Card expansion pack and a $39 CompactFlash one, Clark says. The PC Card jacket provides wireless connectivity through a CDPD card or an IEEE 802.11b HR wireless LAN PC card. You can plug storage, a LAN card, or a modem or bar-code scanner into the CompactFlash expansion pack.
In development are a GPS and a combination Bluetooth/CompactFlash expansion pack for connecting several devices simultaneously and for storage. Of course, the add-ons will also need drivers.
Next Wave in Summer
Like Compaq, Casio is supporting the Pocket PC first in existing hardware. The $599 Cassiopeia E-115 comes with 32MB of memory and a CompactFlash card slot, and it can run Pocket PC software.
Casio expects to release three new Pocket PC designs this summer. The EM-500 is a slim multimedia device that supports a postage stamp-sized multimedia memory card.
For business users, the monochrome EG-80 and color EG-800 have a rugged design and flat lithium polymer rechargeable batteries that last 76 hours without backlight operation, says Gary Shultz, director of Casio's mobile information products division.
Pricing is not available. Casio will offer a trade-in deal for Cassiopeia E100 and E105 devices, Shultz adds.
Symbol Technologies makes Windows CE bar-code scanners with local area wireless capabilities. It's developing rugged, industrial Pocket PC devices, says Phil Holden, group product manager of the Microsoft Windows CE product group.
Hardware vendors may be stalling to see how the Pocket PC fares, but they're likely waiting for the operating system to stabilize, says Jack Gold, senior program director for Meta Group. Changes are hard to make, since the software is on ROM inside the device.
Also, hardware vendors have been waiting on Microsoft, he adds. "You can't start building hardware until there's something to build with."
Software: A Cue From Palm
Improvements to Windows CE's graphical user interface echo Palm's simplicity.
Its Palm-like menu shows all applications, and its Start menu is moved from the bottom left corner to the top left. But the Pocket PC is still Windows based; it even has a right-click option if you manage to tap and hold an icon.
Analysts seem optimistic about the operating system but still criticize Microsoft for overstuffing the Pocket PC with mini-PC applications. Microsoft replies that the Pocket PC is for people who want more than an information manager.
"We want to focus on the out-of-box experience," Holden says. The Pocket PC bundles the AvantGo client into Pocket Internet Explorer. You also get Pocket Word, Excel, Outlook, Windows Media Player, Money, and Reader.
Pocket Outlook with Word and Excel can handle e-mail attachments. More significant is Pocket IE, which promises relatively full Web browsing capabilities. Some analysts say IE may challenge Palm when Pocket PCs go wireless.
Palm is missing a good browser, says Meta Group's Gold. "But the only way Internet Explorer works is if you're connected via modem card or cable," he points out. For now, you have to buy a network card from Socket Communications to connect Pocket PC to the Internet through a mobile phone.
Third-party applications are in the wings. Managemark is announcing Quicken ExpensAble for Pocket PC, an expense management application, for release in June.
Windows Media Player plays MP3 and Windows Media audio files. As for video, AtomFilms uses ActiveSky's streaming media player to play its short films and animation on Pocket PCs.
Microsoft argues that instead of buying a Palm and a digital music player, you could get a Pocket PC. And the Pocket PC's CompactFlash support lets you add Pocket packs containing more applications and information for around $50, Holden says.
Available for free to Pocket PC users is the Fun Pack, which contains more than 20 programs including Pac-Man. The E-mail Pack with a 56k modem is also upcoming, among the many Pocket PC components that trail the debut.
(Alexandra Krasne contributed to this report.)