NEW YORK (04/20/2000) - Microsoft Corp.'s Pocket PC train pulled out of Grand Central Station Wednesday with chief executive Steve Ballmer declaring "it was the right time and the right device" to get the handheld computer line on track after earlier attempts derailed.
On board with Microsoft to show off Pocket PC devices were Compaq, Casio, Hewlett-Packard, and Symbol Technologies. Outnumbering the device vendors are dozens of software developers and Pocket PC services providers. They unveiled an array of products, from putting the arcade classic Pac-Man on a handheld to wirelessly linking the Pocket PC to the Net. Each hopes to ride a Microsoft Pocket PC gravy train.
This type of industry support for the Pocket PC could put a dent in archrival Palm's early grip on handheld devices.
"Microsoft has a very compelling offer here," says Diane Hwang, an IDC analyst.
But the Pocket PC's success depends on the applications that ultimately define the device, she adds.
(Small) Application Onslaught
Microsoft, in fact, offered a parade of third-party support. The selection ranges from applications that build on the handheld device's traditional personal digital assistant functions to add-ons and entertainment programs.
Multimedia and productivity applications in particular littered the show floor.
Pretec Electronics is debuting a $149 56-kbps CompactModem that snaps into the back of Pocket PCs to connect to the Internet over phone lines. ActiveSky used the event to launch its company, centered around the ActiveSky Media Player, which is used to view videos on a Pocket PC. PacketVideo is announcing PVPlayer, MPEG-4-compliant decoding software that supports wireless video streaming on Pocket PCs.
Conduits Technology's $50 Pocket Artist program lets you do image editing and photo manipulation on the handheld devices. Information Exchange is releasing QuickView Plus, a viewer for Lotus, Word, and PowerPoint documents.
DeveloperOne has prepared an entire suite called the Pocket PC Power Collection. Programs include CodeWallet, which securely stores personal, business, and financial information; AccessPanel, a contact manager; TaskPro, a system utility that monitors Pocket PC system resources.
Also, PhatWare is releasing versions of its mobile computing products--HPC Notes, HPC Spell, HPC dbExplorer, and HPC NetProfile--for the Pocket PC.
"I'm impressed," says Chris De Herrera, an attendee at Microsoft's event. "It's pretty obvious you're going to be able to do a lot more with a Pocket PC than with the Palm."
A Pocketful of Options
Microsoft is stocking Pocket PC's operating system with many of its applications. Windows CE 3.0 comes bundled with Pocket versions of Word, Excel, Money, and its Internet Explorer browser. It offers Pocket Outlook so you can manage your calendar, contacts, and e-mail. Also built in is an updated Windows Media Player, so you can listen to MP3 music tracks and access other audio and video files.
HP users have another option; the Jornada 540 series will ship with MusicMatch digital music management software, even though it duplicates many features of Windows Media Player.
Also bundled with Windows CE is Microsoft Reader, with ClearType technology, designed to ease eyestrain from reading the miniature type. Pocket PCs also come with transcription software called Notes, which automatically converts handwriting into text you can edit.
In a statement acknowledging Palm's lead Ballmer says, "We regret that we are not further along in this marketplace. [However,] we think the [Pocket PC] is a quantum leap forward."