Pocket PC: Can it slap Palm?

Summary:Microsoft takes the wraps off its next-generation software for handhelds. Can it get it right this time?

Taking a "more is more" approach, Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced its latest handheld computing platform, which comes bundled with new productivity applications, a shrunken version of Internet Explorer and the original version of Pac-Man running on an emulator.

The Pocket PC made its debut during the morning rush hour on a balcony at New York's Grand Central Station. Microsoft chose the location intentionally for its "mobility aspect," a company official said.

Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Casio Corp. and Symbol Technologies Inc. announced handheld computers based on the new software.

Microsoft (msft) hopes Pocket PC, which is runs on the Windows CE 3.0 operating system, will rise above being "just an organizer" and made a point of taking jabs at the competition, Palm Inc. (palm), early on in the launch. After a demonstration of Pocket PC running a streaming video application, the audience was greeted with the message: "Can your palm do that? Not unless it's holding a Pocket PC."

Instead, the company sees the device as fitting into a fabric of PCs, Internet appliances and handheld devices that people use to communicate, book travel reservations, check the weather or read the news.

"I don't think kills the Palm," said Jill House, senior research analyst with International Data Corp. "I do think, however, that it competes on a new level."

"We see a world with hundreds of millions of PCs, but also hundreds of millions of handheld devices," said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft president and CEO. "People are people. We tried to design a device that you could carry with you that was a source of amusement" as well as provide a business productivity tool.

Ballmer readily admitted that the company has not done well with Windows CE in the past. Palm has more than 70 percent of market share for handheld devices.

"We got a great number of things right and we got some things really wrong," Ballmer said, adding that one of the goals with Pocket PC was to make it "simple, simple, simple."

The new user interface, known by the code name Rapier, looks very much like a browser, except for the menus, which are distinctly Windows. The new look is surely intentional, as Microsoft will announce this week a new version of Internet Explorer for Pocket PC.

The much-maligned "Start" button is still there, but moved from the lower-left side of the screen to the top left. A user clicks the icon to access a drop-down menu, and the new menu reveals a series of single-click icons for launching mail or calendar applications. Underneath the single-click buttons is a list of tasks just like the Windows Start menu. And a number of single-click icons are included at the bottom of the screen in certain applications.

A new handwriting feature allows users to write across the screen when sending an e-mail message. The device also supports the ability to "beam" information, using infrared technology, to Palm handhelds.

Possibly the most important application for Pocket PC devices is the new browser. Users should be able to view most Web sites (using HTML 3.2) either online or offline. It can also automatically reformat a Web page for easier viewing on the Pocket PC's small screen. The browser ties in with Internet Explorer 5 on a desktop PC, allowing a user to select "Mobile Favorites" or Web sites that are then downloaded and stored on the device to be viewed offline later.

Pocket PC will support several types of wireless communications, including cellular digital packet data (CDPD). It will also integrate with GSM-based phones to connect the device directly to the Internet. Socket Communications introduced a compact flash card and cable that will allow users to connect the Pocket PC to a cellular phone.

Besides browsing the Web, users may be able to perform transactions such as online purchases and stock trades. TD Waterhouse Group Inc. announced it would support the Pocket PC to allow customers to make wireless trades.

Also included are new versions of Pocket Word and Excel for viewing and editing documents.

The new devices will also support America Online Inc. (aol) as well as Microsoft's suite of MSN Mobile services.

Microsoft hopes that including the new features -- which also include an electronic book reader and audio player -- will take Pocket PC beyond being just a personal information manager and differentiate the device from Palm. The audio player supports MP3 music formats as well as Windows Media Player files.

Pocket PC's new software will be wrapped in new device hardware from Compaq (cpq), HP (hwp), Casio and Symbol Technologies.

HP's Jornada 540 and 545, priced at $499, are two of the first available Pocket PCs. A Jornada 548, with 32MB of RAM, will cost $599. The devices will offer customizable color skins.

Casio will offer four new Pocket PCs, including the Cassiopeia E-115, which offers 32MB of RAM for $599. Casio's multimedia-enhanced EM-500, available in a number of colors, will be aimed at the youth market. Pricing was not announced on the device, which will be available later in the summer. Two other models target vertical markets.

Compaq also began shipping this week the Aero 1550, which offers Pocket PC software on a monochrome screen for $299. The company plans to ship a color iPaq-branded Pocket PC in June.

Symbol's PPT 2700 Pocket PC will target vertical markets as well.

Overall, Pocket PC is not perfect, but it's a real improvement over the last generation and should be attractive to consumers, said industry officials who are familiar with the device.

"We've worked very hard to learn from our mistakes," said Ben Waldman, vice president of Microsoft's mobile devices division.

Consumers will evaluate the competing devices based on style, price and feature sets. With prices similar to the Palm platform, many people will chose to go with the Pocket PC's broader set of features, said House, the IDC analyst.

But Palm's simplicity will also continue to appeal. "If you're a basic user and you're focused on price, you're going to buy Palm," she said.

Also in its favor, Pocket PC has a bigger list of development partners than before. While only four hardware vendors so far have announced support for Pocket PC, the operating system has hundreds of software development partners. Software available for the OS ranges from ERP software to a "pocket Bible."

In some respects, though, it doesn't matter what Microsoft does. Palm supporters tend to be extremely faithful to their platform and unlikely to switch. "There are too many people out there for whom this is a religious decision," House said.

Taking a "more is more" approach, Microsoft Corp. on Wednesday announced its latest handheld computing platform, which comes bundled with new productivity applications, a shrunken version of Internet Explorer and the original version of Pac-Man running on an emulator.

The Pocket PC made its debut during the morning rush hour on a balcony at New York's Grand Central Station. Microsoft chose the location intentionally for its "mobility aspect," a company official said.

Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co., Casio Corp. and Symbol Technologies Inc. announced handheld computers based on the new software.

Microsoft (msft) hopes Pocket PC, which is runs on the Windows CE 3.0 operating system, will rise above being "just an organizer" and made a point of taking jabs at the competition, Palm Inc. (palm), early on in the launch. After a demonstration of Pocket PC running a streaming video application, the audience was greeted with the message: "Can your palm do that? Not unless it's holding a Pocket PC."

Instead, the company sees the device as fitting into a fabric of PCs, Internet appliances and handheld devices that people use to communicate, book travel reservations, check the weather or read the news.

"I don't think kills the Palm," said Jill House, senior research analyst with International Data Corp. "I do think, however, that it competes on a new level."

"We see a world with hundreds of millions of PCs, but also hundreds of millions of handheld devices," said Steve Ballmer, Microsoft president and CEO. "People are people. We tried to design a device that you could carry with you that was a source of amusement" as well as provide a business productivity tool.

Ballmer readily admitted that the company has not done well with Windows CE in the past. Palm has more than 70 percent of market share for handheld devices.

"We got a great number of things right and we got some things really wrong," Ballmer said, adding that one of the goals with Pocket PC was to make it "simple, simple, simple."

The new user interface, known by the code name Rapier, looks very much like a browser, except for the menus, which are distinctly Windows. The new look is surely intentional, as Microsoft will announce this week a new version of Internet Explorer for Pocket PC.

The much-maligned "Start" button is still there, but moved from the lower-left side of the screen to the top left. A user clicks the icon to access a drop-down menu, and the new menu reveals a series of single-click icons for launching mail or calendar applications. Underneath the single-click buttons is a list of tasks just like the Windows Start menu. And a number of single-click icons are included at the bottom of the screen in certain applications.

A new handwriting feature allows users to write across the screen when sending an e-mail message. The device also supports the ability to "beam" information, using infrared technology, to Palm handhelds.

Possibly the most important application for Pocket PC devices is the new browser. Users should be able to view most Web sites (using HTML 3.2) either online or offline. It can also automatically reformat a Web page for easier viewing on the Pocket PC's small screen. The browser ties in with Internet Explorer 5 on a desktop PC, allowing a user to select "Mobile Favorites" or Web sites that are then downloaded and stored on the device to be viewed offline later.

Pocket PC will support several types of wireless communications, including cellular digital packet data (CDPD). It will also integrate with GSM-based phones to connect the device directly to the Internet. Socket Communications introduced a compact flash card and cable that will allow users to connect the Pocket PC to a cellular phone.

Besides browsing the Web, users may be able to perform transactions such as online purchases and stock trades. TD Waterhouse Group Inc. announced it would support the Pocket PC to allow customers to make wireless trades.

Also included are new versions of Pocket Word and Excel for viewing and editing documents.

The new devices will also support America Online Inc. (aol) as well as Microsoft's suite of MSN Mobile services.

Microsoft hopes that including the new features -- which also include an electronic book reader and audio player -- will take Pocket PC beyond being just a personal information manager and differentiate the device from Palm. The audio player supports MP3 music formats as well as Windows Media Player files.

Pocket PC's new software will be wrapped in new device hardware from Compaq (cpq), HP (hwp), Casio and Symbol Technologies.

HP's Jornada 540 and 545, priced at $499, are two of the first available Pocket PCs. A Jornada 548, with 32MB of RAM, will cost $599. The devices will offer customizable color skins.

Casio will offer four new Pocket PCs, including the Cassiopeia E-115, which offers 32MB of RAM for $599. Casio's multimedia-enhanced EM-500, available in a number of colors, will be aimed at the youth market. Pricing was not announced on the device, which will be available later in the summer. Two other models target vertical markets.

Compaq also began shipping this week the Aero 1550, which offers Pocket PC software on a monochrome screen for $299. The company plans to ship a color iPaq-branded Pocket PC in June.

Symbol's PPT 2700 Pocket PC will target vertical markets as well.

Overall, Pocket PC is not perfect, but it's a real improvement over the last generation and should be attractive to consumers, said industry officials who are familiar with the device.

"We've worked very hard to learn from our mistakes," said Ben Waldman, vice president of Microsoft's mobile devices division.

Consumers will evaluate the competing devices based on style, price and feature sets. With prices similar to the Palm platform, many people will chose to go with the Pocket PC's broader set of features, said House, the IDC analyst.

But Palm's simplicity will also continue to appeal. "If you're a basic user and you're focused on price, you're going to buy Palm," she said.

Also in its favor, Pocket PC has a bigger list of development partners than before. While only four hardware vendors so far have announced support for Pocket PC, the operating system has hundreds of software development partners. Software available for the OS ranges from ERP software to a "pocket Bible."

In some respects, though, it doesn't matter what Microsoft does. Palm supporters tend to be extremely faithful to their platform and unlikely to switch. "There are too many people out there for whom this is a religious decision," House said.

Topics: PCs, Hardware, Hewlett-Packard, Microsoft, Software, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.