Microsoft tries again with Handheld PC

Microsoft Corp. today moved to resuscitate its Handheld PC product line, announcing a new version of the mobile computing technology that runs on the same Windows CE operating system used by the higher-profile PocketPC devices introduced by Microsoft and hardware vendors last spring.

Several PC makers said they've signed on to produce the new Handheld PC 2000 devices. For example, Hewlett-Packard Co. unveiled a $999 addition to its Jornada line of handheld computers based on the Handheld PC 2000 specifications.

Handheld PC devices, which were first introduced four years ago, are larger than their PocketPC brethren and provide users with a full keyboard instead of a keypad. Doug Dedo, product manager for Microsoft's embedded devices division, said the Handheld PC 2000 models will be produced in two versions: a "clamshell" that has a screen half the size of a desktop PC monitor and a "tablet" version with a full-sized screen.

The keyboard and larger screen give the Handheld PC 2000 increased functionality compared with the PocketPC devices, Dedo said. For example, Handheld PC 2000 computers can run Microsoft's full suite of desktop applications and a desktop version of its Internet Explorer browser that has been ported to the Windows CE 3.0 operating system.

Tim Scannell, an analyst at Mobile Insights Inc. in Quincy, Mass., said he views the HandHeld PC as a product in search of a market that may not exist. Rental car companies and other enterprises that want to equip their workers with remote data input devices probably don't need a tablet-style handheld equipped with a keyboard, Scannell said.

The Handheld PC 2000 technology "doesn't sound like it lends itself to one-handed operation," Scannell said, adding that such ease of use is essential for mobile workers. "It seems to me that Microsoft's strategy for the 'anytime, anywhere' market is to throw technology at the wall and see what sticks.".

While Dedo declined to provide sales figures for the Handheld PC line, he did say that the business could be characterized as a "storefront" kind of operation compared to Microsoft's other product lines. But the introduction of the new version dovetails with a company-wide push to provide as many products as possible to meet the demands of users for ubiquitous computing capabilities, Dedo said.

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