Having kept their initiatives on hold while competitors tested the waters, Microsoft Corp. and its licensees are readying Pocket PC handheld devices that feature integrated wireless voice and data capabilities.
The move comes as interest in integrated handhelds grows among corporate users and competition in the industry heats up.
"Any rumors of us not doing wireless devices have been greatly exaggerated," said Ed Suwanjindar, product manager for the mobility division at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash.
At the CTIA Wireless show in Orlando, Fla., next month, Microsoft will tout the next version of its Pocket PC operating system. The upgrade will include support for data and voice, as well as an integrated phone dialer and other wireless telephony features, Suwanjindar said. Its slated to ship in the first half of the year, along with products that support it.
Also at CTIA, Audiovox Corp. will unveil a Pocket PC device similar to its Maestro handheld that has integrated capabilities. It will support Code Division Multiple Access and upcoming 1XRTT third-generation networks. Sprint PCS Group and Verizon Wireless will be subsidizing and selling the devices the same way they do with phones, according to sources close to Audiovox, in Hauppauge, N.Y.
Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp. also have plans for Pocket PC PDAs (personal digital assistants) with integrated voice and data. HPs device, which will support GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) networks and look much like the companys Jornada 560, will ship first in Europe in the first half of the year, officials of the Palo Alto, Calif., company said.
Compaq will be discussing plans for an integrated wireless iPaq at CTIA, but the Houston-based company also will continue to offer expansion sleds for its existing line of iPaqs, including a triband GPRS pack due next month.
Handheld users contacted last week welcomed the idea of PDAs that make it easier to access Windows applications from the road. But they said application support has to be there first.
"The adoption rate will be driven by the extension of business applications, not just the capabilities of the device," said Brian Jones, senior manager of IT research and development at CUNA Mutual Group, a Madison, Wis., financial services company with a mobile sales force of 1,400.
CUNA currently is evaluating wireless handheld options for its mobile and campus employees. It is leaning heavily toward Pocket PC. "We want to move away from Palm [Inc.]," Jones said. "Theyre OK in the consumer space but not in the corporate space."
Even though Palm OS still rules in the market—Cahners InStat Group says 70 percent of handheld devices in the United States run Palm OS—Palm continues to be dogged by its reputation for missing the mark with corporate America. A failed initiative with Accenture Ltd. and a failed attempt to buy Extended Systems Inc. last year have exacerbated the problems.
Palms Solutions Groups most recent attempt to woo the enterprise is the i705, the follow-on to the Palm VII, which includes always-on e-mail access as well as AOL Instant Messenger (see review). Launched last week, the device is already the target of complaints from enterprise users.
San Francisco-based messaging analysis company Ferris Research Inc. lists several shortcomings in a recent bulletin. For example, the analysts said the add-on keyboard, the difficult integration with Microsofts Exchange and the fact that the i705 only runs on Cingular Wireless text network make it a poor choice for business users.
Others simply complain about the price—$449 for the device, plus $40 per month for unlimited service.
"Pricing was the most prevalent factor for why people didnt buy the Palm VII," said Michael Steinberg, president of the New England Palm Users Group, in Cambridge, Mass.