Linux-based handheld debuts in India

The Amida Simputer, originally developed as a "poor man's computer," is being pitched as a device that can handle a wide range of business and personal-computing requirements.

A pair of Indian companies are touting a homegrown handheld, eyeing both the local market and a wider audience.

The Amida Simputer, originally developed as a "poor man's computer," is now being pitched as a device that can handle a wide range of business and personal-computing requirements. The Linux-powered handheld combines the functions of an organizer and an MP3 player and has handwriting recognition capabilities.

The device was developed by PicoPeta Simputers, a Bangalore-based industry academic group, and is being manufactured by Bharat Electronics, an Indian government-owned company. Indian President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, an outspoken supporter of open-source software, formally launched the product via teleconference from New Delhi last week, saying it could play a role in providing government services to citizens.

The Amida Simputer is designed to enable scribbling and e-mailing of notes regardless of language, a key factor in the multilingual Indian market. It also has an on-screen keyboard for two Indian languages--Hindi and Kannada--with more languages to be added soon, the companies said.

But the ambitions of the device's makers don't stop at the country's borders. "We have taken the first steps of an Indian product company building a global brand," V. Vinay, chairman of PicoPeta, said in a statement.

The Amida won't be alone in the Indian market. PalmOne, for instance, offers a range of Zire and Tungsten handhelds at its Indian Web site.

The Amida Simputer comes in three models, with prices ranging from about $240 to $480 (9,950 to 19,950 rupees). It is powered by a 206MHz ARM processor and features 32MB of permanent storage, 64MB of RAM, a 3.8-inch touch screen and a smart-card reader. It can be connected to a landline or a Code Division Multiple Access phone for Internet browsing, and it doubles as an MP3 player.

The device was originally developed for use in rural areas and for applications such as microfinance and e-governance. Prototypes were used in such projects in India.

It is available online and at showrooms to be opened in Bangalore next month.

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