Handhelds extend reach at trade show

Windows CE devices in a variety of shapes and sizes are popping up at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Windows CE devices in a variety of shapes and sizes are popping up at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week, the site of the palm-size PC's introduction last year.

Philips and NEC today announced new handheld devices based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system for non-desktop devices.

Philips unveiled the Nino 200, a new lower-priced palm-size PC. Expected to retail for $299, the Nino 200 features a new, sleeker design and a Quick Start button for faster direct access to specific applications. 3Com's PalmPilot offers similar application-launching keys. Philips already markets the Nino 300 for $399.

The palm-size PC platform was launched last year at this Las Vegas industry event and has performed to mixed reviews thus far, according to analysts. "This is always a pretty big show for us," said Roger Gulrajani, group product manager for the Windows CE product group at Microsoft.

While some customers have complained that the desktop-like interface of the operating system can be unwieldy, analysts predict that Windows CE devices will outsell PalmPilots by the year 2000, according to market research firm International Data Corporation, partly because of the sheer number of palm-size PC manufacturers.

"From a customer perspective, I think [the number of manufacturers] is a huge advantage," Gulrajani said. Consumers "have choices of styles, flavors. Each vendor has its own strengths."

Philips will add features such as high-resolution color displays to its devices later this year, the company said today. The company's palm-size PCs now offer black-and-white displays.

NEC today introduced its MobilePro 770 Handheld PC, a mid-size CE device featuring a display roughly half the size of a typical notebook screen, which joins NEC's MobilePro 750 Handheld PC. The MobilePro 770, which will retail for $799, runs on the Windows CE Handheld PC Professional Edition, originally intended for larger devices.

"There are no issues at all in terms of running [the operating system] on this form factor," Gulrajani said. "It is designed to run on half-VGA devices as well."

These mid-size devices have struggled somewhat in the marketplace because they do not offer much of a cost advantage over sub-$1,000 low-end notebook computers. The more portable devices are designed to offer ten-hour battery life and turn on instantly, unlike full-size notebooks.

Windows CE devices are enjoying "a lot of momentum," Gulrajani said, though Microsoft is not disclosing 1998 sales figures. "Expect a lot of hardware innovation--different form factors, different displays, different speaker capability."