Dell, HP planning Wi-Fi Pocket PC releases

Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) have been nipping at each other's heels in the PC market all year, but next week both companies plan to focus on PDAs (personal digital assistants) with a pair of announcements detailing new wireless models.

HP on Monday is planning to announce two new series of its iPaq PDAs, the h4100 series and the h4300 series, according to sources and documents found on the U.S. Federal Communications Commission's (FCC's) Web site.

The h4150 and h4350 will both come with built-in Wi-Fi chips and Bluetooth connectivity, a source familiar with HP's plans said. They will use Intel Corp.'s 400MHz PXA255 XScale processor, and come with 64M bytes of RAM, according to the user manual found on the FCC site.

HP will include a larger battery in the h4350, which weighs 5.82 ounces (165 grams). The h4150 weighs 4.67 ounces with a slightly smaller battery. Both devices will support SDIO (Secure Digital I/O) cards, according to the user manual.

The h4350 will come with a small keyboard, and cost US$499, while the h4150 comes without a keyboard for $449, the source said.

HP, based in Palo Alto, California, will make the h4150 and h4350 available to corporate customers, and release extremely similar versions known as the h4155 and h4355 to the retail market, just as it did when it refreshed its iPaq lineup this summer, the source said.

Dell sent an e-mail invitation to journalists this week promising details on "the latest news concerning Dell's Axim handheld product line" in a conference call next Wednesday. Last month, the Round Rock, Texas, company announced it would release new versions of its Axim PDA, and sources said Dell will formally release the specifications for the Axim X3 during the conference call.

Those specifications were posted to the FCC's Web site in September. A high-end model will come with a 400MHz XScale processor from Intel Corp., 64M bytes of RAM, 48M bytes of ROM, and an integrated 802.11b Wi-Fi chip. The other less expensive model uses a 300MHz XScale processor, 32M bytes of RAM, and 32M bytes of ROM, according to the user manual found on the FCC's Web site.

Manufacturers of devices with wireless chips are required to get approval from the FCC to sell those devices in the U.S., and the FCC often posts those filings to its Web site. Regulatory bodies in other countries have similar procedures.

Pricing for the Axim has not been released, but the high-end Wi-Fi X3 is expected to cost around $300, sources said. The Axims are slightly heavier than the iPaqs, according to the user manual.

Representatives from Dell and HP did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

The cost of adding wireless Internet connectivity to PDAs is decreasing, and vendors will include the technology in just about everything they can in hopes of stimulating demand for PDAs this holiday season, analysts said Friday.

"Bluetooth will be everywhere," said Todd Kort, an analyst with Gartner Inc. in San Jose, California. Not only will the technology for connecting mobile devices to other mobile devices be included in standard desktops, notebooks, PDAs, and Tablet PCs, it will also be available on low-cost models, he said.

The usage model for PDAs is changing from calendars and contacts to mobile Internet and e-mail, but not fast enough to persuade existing users that they need to upgrade to new PDAs, said Steve Baker, director of research for NPD Techworld in Reston, Virginia.

Sales of PDAs fell 30 percent in August compared to last year in one of the most important buying periods of the year, Baker said. Vendors such as Dell and HP hope that wireless technologies will get users to upgrade from their older unconnected PDAs, but the category is facing a lot of competition from low-end notebooks, cell phones, and Smartphones, he said.

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