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Innovation

Microsoft jumps on the all-in-one bandwagon

While much of the focus has been on the yet-to-be launched Stinger phones, Bill's company has been plowing ahead with a Pocket PC/phone combo. Josh Taylor and John Morris share their inside track on the details.
Written by ZDNET Editors, Contributor on
COMMENTARY-- Ever since details about upcoming products from Palm and Handspring unexpectedly appeared on the FCC's Web site, the industry has been buzzing about PDAs with integrated wireless. Details about Microsoft's impending foray into the all-in-one communicator space had been a bit less forthcoming...until now.

Microsoft had previously announced plans for two lines of handheld/phone combos; one would primarily be a Pocket PC with phone functionality, while the other would be a phone with PDA functionality. Early prototypes of the latter, dubbed "Stinger," looked promising, but final products have yet to see the light of day.

But despite Microsoft's emphasis on Stinger, it turns out we're much closer to seeing a full-blown Pocket PC device with an integrated GSM radio for voice and data. The first fruits of that effort, a PDA called the O2 xda, will be shipping in Europe in the first quarter of 2002.

Microsoft and its hardware partners are also working with HTC--the company that manufactures the Compaq iPaq and Toshiba e570 Pocket PCs--on models for the U.S., and based on what we saw, it looks like real products may not be far off.

Like most PDAs with integrated wireless, the new Pocket PCs will support rich calling features, such as dialing directly from a Contact record (with one touch), caller ID, and 3-way calling.

What was more impressive about this version is the integration with the PIM data in Pocket Outlook. For example, if you start to take a note while on a call, all of the details about the caller are automatically dumped into the header of the note.

Unfortunately, the current version of the software doesn't take the next logical step of attaching the note to a given contact, but hopefully the company will address that before the products begin to ship.

We did like the fact that SMS messaging was integrated into the existing Inbox, rather than requiring a separate application.

No word yet on which companies will be producing wireless versions here in the U.S., when they will be available, or how much they'll cost. But the specs are basically set: 206MHz StrongARM processor, 32MB of RAM, and an SD slot--all in a device that is actually slightly smaller than most of the current Pocket PCs. That ought to turn a few heads.

In related news, NEC announced its long-awaited Pocket PC, which doesn't vary wildly from the current slew of PPC devices. On the plus side, the MobilePro P300 ($599 street) incorporates both SD and CF card slots and ships with a 16MB SD card, but the device contains only 32MB of RAM (many other Pocket PCs include 64MB), and has what is arguably the flimsiest-feeling protective cover we've seen in a long time.

Will Microsoft get it right in the combination market? TalkBack to us.

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