Dell, HP planning Wi-Fi Pocket PC releases

Dell and Hewlett-Packard (HP) have been nipping at each other's heels in the PC market all year, but next week both companies plan to focus on PDAs (personal digital assistants) with a pair of announcements detailing new wireless models.

HP will announce two new series of its iPaq PDAs, the h4100 series and the h4300 series, according to sources and documents found on the US Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) website.

The h4150 and h4350 would both come with built-in Wi-Fi chips and Bluetooth connectivity, a source familiar with HP's plans said.

They will use Intel's 400MHz PXA255 XScale processor, and come with 64M bytes of RAM, according to the user manual found on the FCC site.

HP will include a larger battery in the h4350, which weighs 165gm. The h4150 weighs 132gm with a slightly smaller battery. Both devices will support SDIO (Secure Digital I/O) cards, according to the user manual.

The h4350 would come with a small keyboard, and cost $US499. The h4150 came without a keyboard for $US449, the source said.

HP would make the h4150 and h4350 available to corporate customers, and release extremely similar versions known as the h4155 and h4355 to the retail market, just as it did when it refreshed its iPaq line-up this summer, the source said.

Dell sent an email invitation to journalists last week promising details on "the latest news concerning Dell's Axim handheld product line" this Wednesday. Last month the company announced it would release new versions of its Axim PDA, and sources said Dell would formally release the specifications for the Axim X3 during the conference call.

Those specifications were posted to the FCC's Web site in September. A high-end model will come with a 400MHz XScale processor from Intel, 64MB of RAM, 48MB of ROM, and an integrated 802.11b Wi-Fi chip. The other less expensive model uses a 300MHz XScale processor, 32MB of RAM, and 32MB of ROM, according to the user manual found on the FCC's Web site.

Manufacturers of devices with wireless chips are required to get approval from the FCC to sell those devices in the US, and the FCC often posts those filings to its Web site. Regulatory bodies in other countries have similar procedures.

Pricing for the Axim has not been released, but the high-end Wi-Fi X3 was expected to cost about $US300, sources said.

The Axims are slightly heavier than the iPaqs, according to the user manual.

The cost of adding wireless Internet connectivity to PDAs was decreasing, and vendors would include the technology in just about everything they could in hopes of stimulating demand for PDAs in the forthcoming holiday season, analysts said.

"Bluetooth will be everywhere," a Gartner analyst, Todd Kort, said.

Not only would the technology for connecting mobile devices to other mobile devices be included in standard desktops, notebooks, PDAs, and Tablet PCs, it would also be available on low-cost models, he said.

The usage model for PDAs is changing from calendars and contacts to mobile Internet and email, but not fast enough to persuade existing users that they need to upgrade to new PDAs, said Steve Baker, director of research for NPD Techworld in Reston, Virginia.

Sales of PDAs fell 30 per cent in August compared to last year in one of the most important buying periods of the year, Baker said.

Vendors such as Dell and HP hoped that wireless technologies would get users to upgrade from their older unconnected PDAs, but the category was facing a lot of competition from low-end notebooks, cell phones, and Smartphones, he said.

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