Handhelds spring forth anew

The handheld computer market is this month beginning to make the news again.

The handheld computer market is this month beginning to make the news again, after a long lull in which consumers did not share marketers’ enthusiasm about the portable platform.

A range of computer and electronics companies have announced forthcoming low-cost mobile computing products.

The Apple MessagePad 2000 is one of the first products from the newly formed information appliance division and is marketed as a “mobile Internet computer for the business professional”.

It has built-in word processing and spreadsheet applications and uses the Newton OS. It also has PIM software, can record voice on a 4Mb PC Card and has connection software and hardware for linking to both Mac and PC desktop computers.

Data uploaded from the MessagePad 2000 spreadsheet can be viewed and manipulated in Excel 5.0 or above and the calendar can be synchronised with Microsoft’s Schedule+ and Claris or Lotus Organizer.

HTML and fax pages can be read on screen as can text and GIF-formatted graphics, and the MessagePad 2000 includes a built-in

It runs on a 160MHz StrongARM processor developed by Digital and ARM and has a Cirrus Voyager chipset, 8Mb of ROM, 5Mb of RAM and two Type II PC card slots.

A rechargeable NiMh battery pack is included. Apple claims a battery life of three to six weeks on a one-hour charge.

Apple says it has more than 250 developers and solutions providers for the Newton platform.

Also announced by Apple is the eMate, an Internet appliance designed for the education market. It has a distinctive clam shell-like design and a keyboard designed for touch-typing. It interfaces with Mac and PC printers and computers and can send and receive email and access the Web.

On the Windows-only side of things, Casio and other vendors have announced plans to unveil palmtop products at Comdex in Las Vegas this month.

Casio will join the parade of vendors with Windows CE-based palmtop systems. Casio will show off a device bundled with several scaled-down versions of Microsoft applications. The device will also interact with Microsoft Exchange for sending and receiving email.

Users of one of the early production models say the system will feature a near-full keyboard which includes Ctrl and Alt keys as well as a Windows key which pops up the Windows Start menu.

Called the Cassiopeia, the unit will come standard with 2Mb of RAM, built-in sound capabilities, an infrared port and a PC Card slot to accommodate add-in products such as a modem or a wireless pager.

Although the bundled versions of Word, Excel and Schedule Plus do not have all the features of the full versions, users say virtually all of the critical features are there.

Casio is one of three consumer electronics companies ready to roll out Windows CE-based systems, dubbed HPCs (hand-held PCs) by Microsoft. The other two companies are Philips and LG Electronics. PC vendors Compaq, HP and NEC are also on the bandwagon.

All six companies will unveil their handhelds alongside Microsoft CEO Bill Gates at Comdex. A bevy of software vendors are expected to join in.

Microsoft, along with the hardware vendors, has been touting the HPC’s capability to seamlessly synchronise data with Windows-based desktop PCs. That synchronisation and the capability to send and receive email are the two key components industry analysts cite as crucial to the success of Windows CE devices.

Taking things a step further, Microsoft would like to see its Windows CE OS forming the basis next year of a range of devices--PC and non-PC--including smart cards, Internet appliances and cellular phones.

There is no official word on when any of these appliances will be available in New Zealand but they are expected to make an appearance in early 1997.

Only time will tell if users find the Windows CE devices easier or more convenient to use than the Newton OS-based Apple and third-party devices.

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