It didn't compare with the recent Bush-Putin summit, which, after all, ended with plans to cut back nuclear missiles, but last week's Pocket PC Summit in the city of brotherly love did have some interesting points.
Several vendors took advantage of the Philadelphia conference to announce or demonstrate an array of mobile and wireless hardware. Some high-end handheld computers were shown with Intel Corp.'s XScale microprocessor, specially designed for small devices. The other hardware introductions of note was a new breed of Web-enabled cell phones, running Microsoft Corp.'s Smartphone 2002 operating system, formerly called Stinger, and some Bluetooth products.
Devices making the first use of Intel's XScale 400 MHz PXA250 processor were on display. The chip family, designed for mobile phones and handheld devices, will eventually replace Intel's StrongARM chips. The PXA250, for example, uses about half the power of the StrongARM SA1110, which today powers the Compaq Computer Corp. iPaq and HP Jornada handheld computers.
At the summit, Intermec Technologies, Everett, Wash., showed off its new XScale-based 700 Color mobile computer, a color version of its ruggedized 700 Series PocketPC handheld. One reason Intermec chose the Intel chip was because it can automatically change its clock speed in response to different application loads.
The 700 Color has 65M bytes of RAM, expandable to an astounding 128M bytes, plus 32M bytes of ROM, which can permanently store applications, startup files and data.
The computer weighs about 17-20 ounces, depending on what options you choose. It's designed to use IEEE 802.11b WLAN, Bluetooth, and several WAN wireless options: GSM/GPRS and CDMA/1XRTT. It can run 6-10 hours between battery charges, depending on the kinds of applications being used. There is an optional bar-code scanning module.
The color screen uses reflective thin film transistor (TFT) technology that's both bright and sharp enough to be read in daylight. The screen measures 240x320 pixels and 3.8 inches diagonally.
HP is getting ready almost any day to release its own XScale handheld, the iPaq H3970, which will feature 64M bytes of RAM, and a Secure Digital memory slot which also accepts Multi Media Cards. It will have a full-color screen, a bunch of Microsoft's Pocket applications, running on the PocketPC 2002 operating system, and a built-in Bluetooth radio for short-range, low-power file sharing and communications.
Also due out in June are Xscale PocketPCs from Casio, Hitachi, Toshiba and Acer. Most of these vendors are handing off the design and manufacturing work to a clutch of Taiwanese firms, including Wistron, Compal Electronics, and High Tech Computer.
Microsoft and U.K.-based Sendo demonstrated the as-yet unreleased Sendo Z100 GSM/GPRS "multimedia smartphone," which uses the Windows Powered Smartphone 2002 operating system, which like PocketPC is based on Windows CE. Interestingly, the Z100 also uses the Tao Group's Java 2 Micro Edition(J2ME) multimedia platform, Intent, which will be the main programming model for the Z100.
The phone, with a full color TFT display, will weigh just 99 grams. It will include a stereo headset, and play MP3 or WMA files. It will operate on GSM 900, 1800 and 1900 wireless nets. Other features are USB, IrDA and RS-232 connectivity and hot-pluggable Multimedia Card memory.
Sendo announced in March that the Z100 will be introduced into the U.S. later in 2002, by Cingular Wireless.
A number of business software vendors are working with Sendo to build applications incorporating viewers for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, and for ZIP and PDF files. Sendo says it has "a number" of enterprise software partners also involved. For business users, Sendo plans to release a foldable keyboard for the Z100.
Anycom, a subsidiary of Germany's RFI Mobile Technologies, announced a Bluetooth printer module. The module lets a PocketPC, or other Bluetooth-equipped device, to print over a COM port to any printer with a parallel port. When using an Anycom PC or CF card, the module allows 2-way communication with the printer, via the Anycom Wireless Printing Profile. The module has a range of about 33 feet, but Anycom says in very open locations it can reach nearly 100 feet.
These products are what you'd expect as device builders sharpen their skills in miniaturization, better design, more advanced display technology, and continue to reap the benefits of Gordon Moore's observation that there's an exponential increase in the number of transistors per integrated circuit, roughly doubling every two years.
The result is ever-more capable handheld computers. These devices are more efficient battery users, have crisp displays, and RAM, ROM and optional memory cards that create a memory capacity that was inconceivable just a few years ago.
Yet the question still remains: Can they pay off for the enterprise?
The answer hinges on 1) wireless connection security, rather than connection bandwidth; and 2) on applications that can let users either view the information they need, or update it.
That question can be answered with today's mobile and wireless technology, by enterprise network executives, business managers, and application developers looking for new opportunities.