CES - Microsoft gets serious with Pocket PC telephony

ITworld.com |  Hardware

LAS VEGAS - Microsoft Corp. has moved swiftly to develop a new version of its Pocket PC platform that integrates wireless telephony features into its software for handheld computers. The first gadgets based on the new platform, called Wireless Pocket PC, are expected to go on sale from partners including Hewlett-Packard Co. by the middle of the year, Microsoft officials here said.

Adding CDMA (Code-Division Multiple Access) and GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) capabilities to the Pocket PC will allow users to make voice calls from their PDAs without the need for add-on hardware. Wireless Pocket PC, which will soon be rebranded with a catchy name, should help Microsoft compete with gadgets such as Handspring Inc.'s popular Treo, a combined cell phone-PDA.

Bill Gates, Microsoft's chairman and chief software architect, referred only briefly to the new platform in his keynote speech at the start of the Consumer Electronics Show here Monday. But the company has apparently worked fast to avoid falling too far behind in the emerging market for products that blend telephony functions with a PDA.

"We don't think there's an ideal device that speaks to the needs of all users, so we're placing multiple bets," said Ed Suwanjindar, a product manager for Microsoft's mobility group, in an interview here.

HP will offer a version of its Jornada PDA that uses the telephony features in Wireless Pocket PC, Suwanjindar said. The GSM device, code-named StarFighter, is likely to ship in Europe before the end of the year, he said.

Also in Europe, British Telecommunications PLC's wireless division, MMO2 Plc., will offer a GSM phone manufactured by Taiwan's High Tech Computer Corp. (HTC), the manufacturer of Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPaq. That device will be offered in four European countries by the middle of this year, including Germany and the U.K., and is expected to also go on sale in the U.S. by the end of the year, Suwanjindar said.

AudioVox Corp., meanwhile, plans to offer a Wireless Pocket PC device in the U.S. in the first half of this year called Thera, which will work with the CDMA networks here, he said.

The devices will mostly be branded and sold by telecommunications providers, who are likely to subsidize prices much as they do with cellular phones today. That means end users will end up paying about the same price for a Wireless Pocket PC Wireless device as they do for a standard Pocket PC device, Suwanjindar said.

Microsoft is launching the platform into a highly competitive market and will need to meet its delivery schedule in order to avoid falling too far behind, said Tim Bajarin, president of research company Creative Strategies Inc. "Unless Microsoft can get these products out quickly, Handspring will have a long advantage in terms of time to market," he said.

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