Pocket PCs to Debut April 19

SAN FRANCISCO (03/23/2000) - Pocket PCs, produced by a handful of vendors and running a revised and renamed version of Microsoft Windows CE, will be available for sale in stores and online on April 19, the companies say.

The palm-size Pocket PCs will be available from Casio Computer Co. Ltd., Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., and Symbol Technologies Inc., with releases from other vendors to follow. The hardware manufacturers are determining their own feature sets and will set prices, but you can expect to pay around $500 for a Pocket PC, comparable to the price of a Palm VII.

The Pocket PC devices, announced in January, are smaller than most of the handheld units that currently run the Windows CE operating system. With their debut, Microsoft Corp. can claim its applications run on pocket devices as small as those of prime competitors Palm and Handspring (maker of Palm-compatible Visor).

Shrinking Windows

Windows CE was "criticized in the past as being too complex, too slow, and having hardware that's too big," says Phil Holden, group product manager for Microsoft's mobile devices division. But Microsoft claims the devices that run its operating system have greater capabilities than the others.

"Palm has a nice organizer and nice hardware designs, but the Palm Pilot is an old PIM," Holden adds. "All that Palm does is basic PIM [functions]. You can get add-ons, but you can't download full e-mail on a Palm Pilot."

Actually, you can buy snap-on extensions for Palm, and Handspring is expandable through its Springboard modules. Also, Palm and Visor users note that you can download e-mail and synchronize the handheld's files with a variety of e-mail applications on a PC. Microsoft answers that its version of Outlook for the Pocket PC provides tighter integration with Outlook on a PC.

Not every Pocket PC application will appear on every Pocket PC device. Most devices will run the professional version of Pocket PC, which includes personal information management software, Pocket Internet Explorer, Microsoft Reader for eBook, Windows Media Player, and a Business Productivity pack that includes Pocket versions of Outlook InBox, Microsoft Word, and Microsoft Excel. Also available is Microsoft Expedia Pocket Streets, for downloading maps.

What Else Fits in Your Palm?

Microsoft is also pushing the Pocket PC's expandability. Holden says hardware manufacturers will include expansion slots for CompactFlash memory cards, which will allow you to add up to 300 megabytes of storage, or to plug in a modem or a digital camera. In the future, Holden says, Pocket PCs will support GPS, Bluetooth, and wireless services through MSN mobile support.

"We have a PC for tomorrow," Holden says of the expandability.

Handspring decided to offer such add-ons through its Springboard module, not with every device, answers Lee Epting, director of partner programs and business development at Handspring. For example, voice recognition is available as an add-on because not everyone will want it.

"We'd rather encumber the base device with the cost and the processing power needed for those kinds of devices," Epting says.

Compete or Overkill?

Microsoft's Pocket PC applications may be more full-featured than those of the Palm operating system, but "those aren't things there's a lot of demand for in the handheld form factor," says Allen Bush, Handspring spokesperson.

And Michael Mace, Palm's chief competitive officer, dismisses Microsoft's applications as "dumbed-down PC stuff or features that don't work well today."

He says Palm now has 55,000 developers working on applications for that operating system, and 5000 shipping applications.

Both camps--Palm and Pocket PC--are betting on different sides of the question of whether users want to look on a handheld at the same spreadsheets or documents that they run on their notebooks. Are people ready to handle on a palm-size unit the tasks typically reserved for a PC? Until the Pocket PC pops into stores in April, devices that run the Palm operating system continue to compete with larger units and promises of smaller things to come.

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