Bangalore company to offer Linux PDA

Bangalore-based Infomart (India) Pvt. Ltd. has designed a Linux-based personal digital assistant (PDA), that aims to offer features comparable to PDAs built around Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC operating system (OS), but at a price below lower-cost PDAs based on the Palm OS.

A developer version of the product, called the Kaii, is scheduled to be released in November this year, with the release of the product to customers scheduled for the first quarter of next year. Infomart plans to license the design of the Kaii to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) worldwide who will take the product to market with their own brand names.

"Our key selling point to OEMs is that we can mold the hardware design and the software of the Kaii quickly to meet their specific requirements," said Devesh Agarwal, managing director of Infomart.

Infomart has designed the Kaii around a SH7727 processor from Hitachi Ltd. in Tokyo. OEMs are expected to retail a monochrome version of the product, with 16M bytes of flash memory, 32M bytes of RAM, a monochrome LCD (liquid crystal display), and multimedia capabilities at US$199. A top-end version at $399 will have 32M bytes of flash, 64M bytes of RAM, a color TFT (thin film transistor) LCD and multimedia.

The Kaii offers interfaces such as USB (Universal Serial Bus) Host Control, USB Client, serial port, and an IrDA (Infrared Data Association) interface. Expansion slots include a SD (Secure Digital) card expansion slot for RAM expansion, and CompactFlash expansion slot for Bluetooth, 802.11, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), GPS (Global Positioning System), Ethernet, and modem connectivity. Infomart is also planning to integrate in the next version of Kaii a module for GSM and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) wireless connectivity.

The Kaii is the second attempt by Indian designers to build a handheld computer, the first being the Simputer designed by academics from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore in tandem with engineers from Bangalore-based Encore Software Ltd. While the Simputer was designed as a low-cost, handheld computer for rural applications, and later repositioned for business applications, the Kaii has been positioned from the outset as a PDA for business use. Also the Kaii has been designed as a product for markets worldwide, with support for European and Chinese languages, while the Simputer's initial focus was on building support for Indian languages.

Infomart has brought down the cost of the Kaii by designing it around off-the-shelf components. Designing the Kaii in India, which has relatively low cost engineering talent, has also helped the company keep the development cost low. "Our cost of development at less than one million dollars places us at an advantage over most other PDA vendors whose cost of development would be at least thrice that amount," Agarwal added.

The Kaii is built around the Lineo Embedix Plus PDA software stack from Lineo Inc., a Salt Lake City, Utah, embedded software vendor. Lineo integrates offerings from Trolltech AS and Opera Software ASA in Oslo, and Fremont, California-based Insignia Solutions Inc. to provide a complete software solution for PDAs and mobile phones. Infomart is offering on the Kaii the Qt/Embedded graphical user interface (GUI), and Qtopia PDA software from Trolltech AS. The browser is from Opera, and the Java virtual machine is the Insignia Jeode. Infomart is also offering an office suite and e-mail client for Linux from Seoul-based HancomLinux Inc. "If our OEM customers want it we will add other software or remove some components from the software stack," said Agarwal.

By using Embedix Plus PDA, Infomart plans to tap into applications developed by independent software vendors for similar devices that use this Lineo software stack.

Using Linux also enables Infomart to customize the software to specific OEM requirements. " We couldn't do that unless we were working with an open source operating system," Agarwal said. Infomart expects that a number of OEMs will launch applications-specific versions of the Kaii. The hardware has also been designed to be configured easily to meet the specific requirements of some OEMs, according to Agarwal.

"Besides addressing OEMs who want to offer general purpose PDAs, we can also design for them PDAs that are targeted at specific vertical applications." While the software stack can be customized in about three days, the hardware can be reconfigured for the OEM customer within 30 days, according to Agarwal.

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