Symbol launches 'enterprise' Wi-Fi handheld

By Peter Judge, Techworld.com |  Mobile & Wireless

Symbol Technologies Inc. is looking to tempt managers with a new twist on the PDA. It hopes that users who are less than gentle with their mobile tools will be excited by what Symbol calls a "durable" enterprise PDA. While not as "rugged" and chunky as Symbol's existing handhelds for delivery van drivers, the devices will take more knocks than the typical iPaq or Axim, and Symbol hopes companies will buy big batches for middle managers.

"The PDA is moving from a consumer to an enterprise device," said Andy McBain Symbol's EMEA mobile devices marketing manager. Most PDAs in enterprises are currently bought by individuals, but this will change as more are purchased by IT managers, he said, quoting Gartner Group figures that put such "enterprise" PDAs at 60 percent of the market by 2008. When IT managers buy PDAs, they will buy more durable and uniform devices, said McBain, instead of the fragile, rapidly changing PDAs currently sold.

Symbol's MC50, which McBain showed to Techworld earlier this month, is a sealed Windows Mobile 2003 device with Wi-Fi designed to withstand being dropped onto tiles, unlike consumer PDAs designed to be dropped onto pillows. Industrial handhelds, such as Symbol already sells are hardened against drops onto concrete, which makes them more expensive.

Costing from US$950 to $1200, the device is intended for "grey collar" workers -- such as retail managers and estate agents. Consumer PDAs are not tough enough for these people, but dedicated rugged devices would be overkill. The device will include built in Wi-Fi access, and a barcode scanner or a camera.

The device is available in two versions, with a QWERTY keyboard and without. The customer also has a choice of a barcode reader ($1,000), a scanner combined with a quarter-VGA mono camera ($1,200) and a 1.3 megapixel camera with no barcode scanning ($950). Other options include an extended battery pack, which should last for 14 hours of normal use.

Voice seems to have been made into an extra, rather than a main purpose of the device, in order to keep costs down. While the MC50 is "ready for voice," users will be expected to add their own VoIP software from vendors such as Nortel Networks Ltd. and Avaya Inc., said McBain.

The device also lacks built-in Bluetooth support. Without the ability to use a Bluetooth headset, the VoIP facility means either using a wired headset or holding the device to your head, making it hard to talk and refer to applications. "There was a 50/50 split and we decided not to put Bluetooth in," said McBain. "Most enterprises only want one radio technology."

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