Jornada, iPaq Paths Colliding

Move toward combining HP, Compaq handheld lines causes concern.

With the new Jornada looking a lot like the old iPaq, a consolidation of handheld computing lines seems inevitable in the wake of Hewlett-Packard Co.s announcement to acquire Compaq Computer Corp.

Meanwhile, both companies are focusing on Intel Corp. hardware and the latest Microsoft Corp. operating system for their PDAs (personal digital assistants), causing concern in the industry over another Wintel cartel regardless of which manufacturers PDA line survives the acquisition.

HP last week at the DemoMobile show in La Jolla, Calif., introduced the Jornada 565, with 32MB of RAM, and the Jornada 568, with 64MB of RAM. These latest Jornadas include a CompactFlash expansion slot and a backup battery and will cost $599 and $649, respectively.

The devices include several features that had set Compaqs iPaq apart from other Pocket PC devices in the past—an Intel StrongARM processor, a 16-bit thin-film-transistor reflective color screen and a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery.

Both devices support Microsofts latest Pocket PC 2002 operating system, which also was unveiled at DemoMobile. Designed to court enterprise users, the operating system includes support for Windows Terminal Services, a virtual private network client and support for the 802.11 wireless LAN protocol. Also new is support for instant messaging.

That the new Jornadas are similar to the iPaqs could make it difficult for the combined HP-Compaq to decide which line to scrap.

"Obviously, lately the HP units are weak and the iPaqs are stronger," said Fran Rabuck, practice leader for mobile computing at Alliance Consulting, in Philadelphia, and an eWeek Corporate Partner. "In that space I have to believe that HP is going to end up being eliminated." But recent improvements have closed the gap for HP, analysts said.

HP is one of several companies, including Compaq, that plan to start selling Pocket PC 2002 devices Oct. 4. Unlike the previous round of Pocket PC devices, which run several chips, most of the new devices will use the Intel StrongARM processor. The prospect of a handheld Wintel association, which has had major control over PC hardware vendors, has not gone unnoticed.

"Microsoft wants ARM processors with a couple of legacy exceptions," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Dataquest, in San Jose, Calif.

Microsoft officials said that consistent support for ARM means that developers dont have to write for three chips anymore. Current Pocket PC devices run on either ARM, MIPS Technologies Inc.s MIPS processors or SH3 processors.

"Theres definitely a focus on the enterprise space," said Ed Suwanjindar, product manager for the Mobility Group at Microsoft, in Redmond, Wash. "We really do believe that the largest market opportunity exists in the enterprise."

But competitors are critical of the sudden shift.

"They gave nobody advanced notice about this," said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer at Palm Inc., in Santa Clara, Calif., which also is shifting to ARM but taking more time to do so. "The new ARM stuff cant run stuff that was written for the MIPS processors."

Unlike other hardware products, life spans for handhelds are short, and chances are good that Compaq and HP will release several new products between now and the time the product lines finally start merging.

"The designs and features will be highly varied," said Dulaney, who predicted that the handheld industry will not see tangible results of the HP-Compaq merger before the end of next year.