Comdex Highlights Handhelds, Wireless Computing

UPDATE: Customers hitting the show floor on Monday will have to search harder than ever for innovative new products.

LAS VEGAS—Fall Comdex isnt what it used to be. Customers hitting the show floor on Monday will have to search harder than ever for innovative new products, while vendors will have to search harder than ever for new attendees.

There will be new products at the show, though, and the overriding focus is handheld and wireless computing.

Palm Inc. on Sunday announced a deal with RealNetworks Inc. that will let customers use Palms Tungsten T handheld computers as digital audio players. RealOne Player Mobile will be available for the Tungsten by the end of the year.

An ongoing demonstration of the application drew a crowd at the annual pre-Comdex MobileFocus event that takes place the night before the show floor opens.

"Im interested," said Kevin Baradet, network system director of technology services at the S.C. Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. "Very often weve got lecture audio or video because students want to see [the lecture] after the fact." Many of the students carry handhelds, Baradet said.

Palms software subsidiary, PalmSource Inc., plans to announce a new licensee of the Palm OS on Monday, according to PalmSource officials in Santa Clara, Calif.

Palm OS licensee Handspring Inc. later this week will announce U.S. availability of GPRS (general packet radio service) support for its Treo device.

Meanwhile, Dell Computer Corp. on Monday officially announced itself as the latest licensee of Microsoft Corp.s Pocket PC operating system with the launch of its long-awaited, cost-effective Axim 5 handheld device. The mobile computing device will sell in two configurations for $199 and $299, after a $50 rebate. The more expensive version is equipped with an 400MHz Intel Xscale processor with 64MB of SDRAM and 48 MB of ROM. The less expensive model has a 300MHz chip and less memory.

Officials said the Round Rock, Texas, company will release two new Axim models next year—the X3 and the X7. Dell is also looking to integrate Bluetooth WLAN access next year.

Dell has "fixed the things that should have been fixed on Pocket PC devices a while ago," Baradet said, noting that he thinks the Axims scrolling wheel makes it easier to operate than some of its competitors and that the battery life seems promising.

In another boon for Microsoft, NEC Solutions (America) Inc. on Monday will announce plans to introduce its first Tablet PC. The Versa LitePad, which runs on a central processor from Intel Corp., will be available in the beginning of 2003.

Nokia Corp., which is known for novel designs, on Monday will introduce several new phones that will launch in the first quarter of next year, according to company officials in Espoo, Finland.

The Nokia 5100 is a ruggedized handset geared toward a diverse audience, including such features as a thermometer, a calorie counter, a sound-level meter and a flashlight.

The Nokia 6200 is one of the worlds first 3GPP phones to support EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM evolution). It also supports GSM (Global System for Mobility) in the 850, 1800 and 1900MHz frequency bands. The 6200 features a color display and an ergonomically friendly keypad in which the keys are larger but closer together than in other phones, so the phone stays small.

The Nokia 7250 is the companys first "fashion phone" (meaning its tiny) that includes a digital camera—it sits in the back of the phone. It also supports three bands of GSM.

The Nokia 6100, at 2.7 ounces, is the lightest Nokia phone ever. It supports Java and MMS (multimedia messaging system) and runs tri-band GSM and GPRS (general packet radio service). It also includes a color screen.

Color displays are expected to be par for the course throughout the industry in the near future.

"Color screens cant be underestimated," said Philip Gilchrist, vice president of PCS Global Standards and Technology Asset Management at Nokia competitor Motorola Corp. in Libertyville, Ill. "All our screens will be color by next year."

Of course, a phone is only as good as the carrier that supports it, and the new third-generation networks are receiving some early complaints. Fran Rabuck, a Philadelphia-based consultant and an eWEEK corporate partner, grumbled for example that he likes the potential of his feature-packed Motorola T720 phone, but he has yet to successfully use it to download a simple game over AT&T Wireless network.

"And each time you download, you pay," Rabuck said, adding that he quit after three tries.

On the carrier front, Nextel Communications Inc., Sun Microsystems Inc. and EDS on Tuesday will announce a portal that securely extends Suns Open Net Environment (ONE) platform to Java-enabled Nextel handsets. It should be available by the end of this year.

(Editors note: This story has been updated since its original posting to include additional information surrounding the release of Dells Axim 5 handheld device at Comdex on Monday.