• United States
by Matt Berger

Users size up new, low-cost PDAs

Nov 18, 20024 mins
MicrosoftNetwork Security

A deluge of new PDAs running Microsoft’s Pocket PC software and the Palm operating system made their debut Monday here at the Comdex trade show, promising to make available low-cost, feature-rich portable devices to consumers and business users.

Hardware makers including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and a less traditional PDA vendor, wrist-watch maker Fossil, announced or released new products here that aim to bring a little variety to the already flooded PDA market. Joining them in marketing handhelds are a host of partners hawking products such as software, leather cases and add-on devices.

While prices are dropping and features are improving, the onslaught of new PDAs is a bit overwhelming, noted Dana Frischer, a Comdex attendee who operates a small business selling liquidated computer equipment online. 

“The PDA market is running along the same lines as personal computers. You’ve got two basic operating systems and the only difference you have beyond that is basic form factors and features,” said Frischer, an avid user of HP’s iPaq. “It’s becoming a commodity market.”

Dell Monday officially introduced its $199 Axim X5 Pocket PC here, entering the market with one of the lowest cost handhelds yet running Microsoft’s operating system. The devices feature an Intel XScale 300MHz processor, 48M bytes of memory and 32M bytes of Flash ROM. It is also available with a 400MHz processor for $299, and all versions of the Axim feature expansion slots for CompactFlash and Secure Digital cards.

Long-time Pocket PC vendor HP made a play for the low-cost market with a $299 version of its handheld. The iPaq H1910 is smaller than its predecessors and features only basic applications such as calendaring and a phone book. HP also beefed up the high end of its iPaq line with a device for $699 that includes 802.11b wireless networking technology built in. The iPaq H5450 has the same body as previous releases making it compatible with existing sleds, which can be used to add such components as a digital camera or global positioning device.

PalmSource, a division of handheld maker Palm, is backing a less conventional approach to selling PDAs. It announced here Monday a new licensee of its software, Fossil, which plans to release a line of watches that allow users to store addresses and phone numbers, manage their calendar and run other applications designed for the Palm OS. Due in mid-2003, the watches will feature a touch screen, a stylus pen integrated into the band, 2M bytes of memory and an infrared port.

The announcements here reflect the attitude some consumers and business users have toward mobile computing devices, according to various attendees here. For consumers, the lower price tags are appealing to first-time buyers. And new concepts such as the Fossil watch computers could appeal to consumer gadget enthusiasts, according to some onlookers.

Others business users here have gravitated to the new Pocket PC devices, which some said show more promise for business users.

“The iPaq just works out better in an IT setting than the Palm,” said Dan Pendergrass, Internet applications manager for the County of El Paso, Texas. Ten out of 30 county employees use iPaq handhelds, which are linked to the local government computer system, he said.

Michael Haas, a LAN technician for the Lenape Regional High School District, in Burlington County, New Jersey, also said his organization has picked Pocket PCs over Palm OS-based devices for business use. Teachers and administrators in his school district carry iPaqs, which give them access to such information as a student’s class schedule and school district data.

“The Pocket PCs pretty much just won out,” said Haas, while disclosing that he uses one of the original Palm organizers for personal use. He said application support was one main driver for choosing the iPaq for work use. “The application we need is only available for the iPaq. Either it is easier to develop on or there are just more developers because its Windows,” he suggested.

Still, some attendees here said they would remain on the sidelines of the handheld computer craze despite lower prices and more features than in years past.

“I’ve never had a PDA myself,” said Rick Jenkins, a resident of Anaheim, California, who operates a small business refurbishing used PCs. “I’m still a pen-and-paper person.”