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No free ride for Pocket PC

Vindigo, which offers its city-guide software for Palm OS-based handhelds for free, will charge $30 per year for its Pocket PC version.

Some of the best things in handheld life are no longer free.

Vindigo has been working for some time on a version of its city-guide software that would run on Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system. But until the software was released this week, it was not known that Vindigo would be charging $30 a year for the Pocket PC version.

Meanwhile, the New York company continues to give away for free the version that runs on handhelds using Palm's operating system. Vindigo relies on advertising revenue to support the Palm version.

"We decided to take the HBO route as opposed to the NBC route," Vindigo CEO Jason Devitt said Wednesday of the Pocket PC version. Even with the gains in market share that Pocket PC has made in the past year, Devitt asserted, there still are not enough people with Pocket PC-based handhelds to attract sufficient advertising.

"It would not be possible to justify the cost of building the application on an advertising-supported basis," he added. Instead, Devitt said, the company will try to add enough features over the coming months to justify the price tag. In its first incarnation, for example, Vindigo for the Pocket PC offers detailed maps in color, as opposed to the basic black-and-white maps on the Palm version.

Advertising on handhelds and cell phones has proven a tough proposition in general, forcing a number of companies to try different strategies.

For example, rival AvantGo has focused on wooing business customers that want to put corporate data on their employees' handhelds. AvantGo tries to attract corporate customers by offering its popular, free program to consumers who want to view Web content on their handhelds.

In July, Vindigo landed a second round of funding but cut 14 percent of its staff in its efforts to reach profitability.

Devitt said the move to charge for its Pocket PC software by Vindigo does not represent a fundamental shift in strategy, saying the company wants to provide information on a number of different mobile devices and with each device the business is a little different.

"I don't rule out the prospect of having a simpler version of the Pocket PC version for free at a later date," Devitt said. And, he added, "I don't rule out having a more sophisticated Palm application that we do charge for at a later date."