Royal established itself making typewriters, paper-shredders, calculators, and other basic office supplies. It entered the PDA business last fall just as the market exploded, driven by the popularity of Palm Computing's PalmPilot, and a broad range of devices based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system.
While these companies stuffed more features into their products over the last year, Royal has concentrated on offering a stripped-down, sub-$100 digital organizer. The DaVinci didn't need to be a giant slayer, the company reasoned, but could achieve moderate success by grabbing a portion of the handheld market, which is estimated to be around 665,000 unit shipments by 2000, according to market research firm International Data Corporation.
When Palm first introduced the PalmPilot, the device was lauded for the simple interface and ease of use. Since that time, Palm and third party developers have offered everything from scaled down Web content to email readers for the platform. Windows CE manufacturers and developers have concentrated on adding support for color displays and wireless connectivity.
Now, Royal is also slowly adding bells and whistles to its device, introducing the revamped DaVinci, and the new DaVinci Pro. But as Palm and Microsoft keep introducing new features and devices, the prices on existing devices have come down to the point where an independent player like Royal may be squeezed out of the market, said Gerry Purdy, editor of industry newsletter Mobile Insights.
"If you want a Palm, they have a price point and a product that will work well for you," Purdy said. "From Royal's standpoint, they probably have a good product in design, but the real issue is marketing: how you build credibility and how you build brand."
The current duopoly in the handheld market, "does make it difficult for a company to get significant play in the marketplace," Purdy said, noting that other players will soon begin offering sub-$100 units, as well, such as Handspring, a start-up company formed by the founders of Palm Computing. "Handspring has said that the one thing they're going to do is build products for under $200. Royal has a tough row to hoe," Purdy said.
Royal is expanding the memory on the $99 DaVinci to 2MB, comparable to the Palm III and newly introduced Palm V. Most Windows CE devices feature around 4MB of memory. In addition, the company is pre-loading software from CompanionLink which allows DaVinci users to synchronize their data with Microsoft's Outlook productivity suite.
DaVinci, which offers limited handwriting recognition and an optional palm-sized keyboard, also includes a feature called FlashNotes, which lets users save handwritten text or drawings. The revamped DaVinci will begin shipping next month, Royal said.
The $149 DaVinci Pro, which was first demonstrated this year at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, offers direct email and fax capability, along with the organizer features of the entry-level DaVinci.
The DaVinci Pro includes a cradle with a slot for PC card modems, which in turn allows limited email and fax functionality, Royal said. Modems for the device will be sold separately. The DaVinci Pro will be available this summer.