HP announces new GSM/GPRS-enabled iPaq

One of the first devices to combine mobile phone technology with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless networking is the centerpiece of Hewlett-Packard Co.'s (HP's) new lineup of iPaq personal digital assistants (PDAs), which the company is expected to announce Monday.

The iPaq h6315 was developed in partnership with T-Mobile USA Inc. and allows users to make phone calls over T-Mobile's GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) network. It can switch between those wide-area network technologies and the LAN connections provided by Wi-Fi chips, and also use wireless peripherals equipped with Bluetooth technology, said John Dayan, senior director of HP's handheld and wireless business.

Most analysts feel that the growth opportunities for PDA vendors lie in converged devices such as the h6315 that allow users to run applications and communicate with the outside world on a single device, instead of forcing users to carry a PDA for applications and information management in addition to a mobile phone. PalmOne Inc.'s Treo 600 was one of the first of these converged devices to catch on with a mass market, and the h6315 takes the capabilities of that device one step further with the ability to connect to 802.11b wireless networks.

This device is meant for business customers who are constantly moving between different operating environments, Dayan said. Its suggested retail price of US$599 is competitive with the Treo 600.

The h6315 comes with Texas Instruments Inc.'s OMAP1510 applications processor. It features 64M bytes of SDRAM (synchronous dynamic RAM), 64M bytes of flash memory, a 3.5-inch transflective TFT (thin film transistor) display and an SDIO (Secure Digital I/O) expansion slot.

HP is expected to announce four other iPaqs on Monday. The hx4700 will be one of HP's more powerful PDAs, with a 624MHz XScale applications processor from Intel Corp. and a 4-inch VGA (640 pixels by 480 pixels) display, said Eric Kilponen, director of product marketing for HP's handheld product business. The company envisions the US$649 hx4700 as a mobile application development platform, he said.

The h6315 and hx4700 are two of HP's most impressive devices to date, said Todd Kort, principal analyst with Gartner Inc. in San Jose, California. "I expect they'll both do very well, given their price points," he said.

But HP missed a beat with its other three new PDAs, according to Kort. The new rz1700 and rx3000 series PDAs are a step backwards for HP in terms of industrial design, an extremely important factor among PDA consumers, he said.

"The coolness factor is important. If they're going to spend $200 to $300 on a PDA, they want something they can impress their friends with," Kort said.

The rz1700 is designed to replace the h1900 series of iPaqs, which is HP's current low-end PDA series, Kilponen said. HP was unable to provide specifications at the moment, but it will cost $279, Kilponen said.

The rx3700 is designed as a multimedia handheld that downplays the information management capabilities that PDAs are generally known for, Kilponen said. It comes with built-in Wi-Fi technology, Bluetooth and a 1.2-megapixel camera for $499, he said. HP will also release the rx3115 later this year, but pricing and specifications were not available for that unit.

Dell Inc. should be able to gain some market share among these low-end PDAs with its new Axim X30 PDA, Kort said. Dell is not known for industrial design, but its PDAs are very similar to the new HP models and cost significantly less, he said.

"(HP was) a step ahead of Dell, now they are similar with a generic design. Therefore it will be easier for people to look at the Dell and HP specifications and say Dell is giving them a better deal," Kort said.

The h6315 will be available exclusively through T-Mobile in late August. The other three new models will become available during the third quarter, HP said.

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