A British company called Concept Technologies plans to launch a handheld mobile network computer based on Sun's JavaOS in mid-1998 .
The NC, dubbed the Pic Pocket, resembles a handheld computer in that it has a full keyboard and color display, but it won't come with Windows CE or a suite of productivity applications like many handheld computers on the market today, says Bruce Jackson, software development manager for Concept Technologies, a subsidiary of communications company Hugh Symons Group. Instead, the device will rely on users downloading Java applications, which can be stored locally in the device's 10Mb of flash memory for disconnected computing, Jackson said.
The Pic Pocket will come with JavaOS 1.1, Sun's HotJava browser with an integrated Java virtual machine and networking support for TCP/IP, Ethernet and point-to-point protocol (PPP.) The hardware includes a PowerPC processor, 16M bytes of DRAM, 10M bytes of flash memory, a PCMCIA Type 2 slot, a serial port, a lithium ion battery giving up to one hour of continuous use and a 4.7-inch color monitor. Users connect the Pic Pocket to the Internet using a GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) phone via a GSM modem card inserted in the PCMCIA slot. Regular analog modem cards and ISDN or Ethernet adaptor cards can also be used in the PCMCIA slot. The device has no hard drive or floppy drive.
In addition, the Pic Pocket will include a microphone and speaker. Coupled with a dialing application, which will most likely come bundled with the device, users will be able to connect the Pic Pocket to a regular phone line and speak into it as they would a phone receiver.
While the original price will most likely be around US$1,000, the price will drop over the next year and half, Jackson says. The most expensive components are the flash memory and the LCD screen, he said. When prices in these two categories drop, so will the price of the Pic Pocket, he said.
Concept is aiming the Pic Pocket at a different user than someone who would be interested in buying a Windows CE handheld, Jackson says. While handheld computer users are mostly interested in personal productivity applications such as spreadsheets and word processors, mobile NC users will have the need to use specialized applications written in Java. For example, the Pic Pocket could be used by field workers who need to access an in-house designed inventory tracking system written in Java. Users will also use the Pic Pocket to connect to corporate intranets to perform tasks using Java applications that reside on the intranet, such as sales processing, he said.
One problem plaguing mobile NCs is that downloading large Java applications over a GSM modem can be very slow -- "a pain" for most users, Jackson agrees. That is why Concept invested heavily in putting 10Mb of flash memory onto the Pic Pocket, he says. Users can connect to the LAN via an Ethernet adaptor, download the necessary Java application in the office, then go out in the field to do the work without having to download the core application again, he says.
In January, Concept will make several test models available. However, general availability won't be until the second or third quarter of 1998, Jackson says.
Concept, based in Poole, England, can be reached on the Internet at http://www.hughsym.co.uk/.