WebPDA: A new handheld contender?

The PDA market is growing and ISI and Mitsubishi are ready to get a piece of the pie.

Analysts have responded positively to news that US software developer Integrated Systems (ISI) and Japanese technology giant Mitsubishi are working together to develop a handheld operating system as well as hardware devices.

ISI has produced a fully-customisable reference design for a complete handheld embedded device package to rival current PDA and palmtop interfaces from Microsoft, 3Com and Symbian. It will christen any potential device WebPDA. ISI will take a chief role in engineering the embedded OS, while Mitsubishi Electric is to develop silicon for the new portable devices.

Alison McKenzie, research manager at analyst firm IDC, said that although products could take some time to reach European markets, if at all, the alliance could become a serious fourth contender in the hand-held market, driving development and growth. "ISI wants any OS developed to work in real-time, which is also the latest goal for Microsoft. Improved access to the Internet is also a necessity for upcoming handheld and embedded devices," said McKenzie. She added: "I guess ISI will work towards running personal Java -- a JVM on a smaller footprint than before -- which will open numerous mobile applications and reach out to new users."

ISI already supplies embedded controllers for myriad specialised wireless devices capable of running mobile Java-based applications, and will inevitably port the technology to any potential WebPDA device.

But ISI says the key benefit of its WebPDA reference design is that it is customisable, which opens the platform up to a vast scope of innovative product design.

McKenzie concluded: "It's certainly good news that another player has entered this market, but whether the market is currently strong enough to support four portable OS developers is another thing. The future will reveal whether it will ultimately be big enough to support multiple systems, or instead work towards one definitive standard."

ISI is freely distributing the hardware/software reference design package to third-parties buying its existing pSOS and RTOS real-time operating system. Before actual product development, customers will have to pay for software development licenses from ISI, as well as hardware components directly from Mitsubishi Electric.