Aiming to boost its presence in the Chinese handheld market, Microsoft announced Thursday a localized version of its Pocket PC 2002 operating system and several new hardware partners in Asia.
Microsoft has twice before released Chinese-language operating systems for handhelds. However, the new version adds several features for making it easier to enter Chinese characters, such as allowing the whole screen to be used for character recognition.
Among the new hardware makers pledging to build devices are Taiwanese and Chinese companies Acer, AsusTek, Compal, Eten, HTC and Inventec. Microsoft's previous handheld hardware partners in the region were Casio, Legend, Toshiba and Cesscomm.
Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard are also planning to use the new software for Chinese-language versions of their handhelds. Compaq, Intel and Microsoft recently inked a strategic alliance to recruit developers in the region to create Pocket PC applications.
Microsoft said devices with the new software are expected to begin shipping in the next few months. Acer said its Pocket PC 2002-based device will come out next year.
The new Pocket PC handhelds will compete with a Palm OS-based handheld from Acer that was introduced in October. However, analysts said the greatest competition comes from a handful of regional brands that use a number of lesser-known operating systems such as Penbex.
"The Asia-Pacific market seems to gravitate to the local vendors," IDC analyst Kevin Burden said. "The strategy from Microsoft is: Great, let's work with the local vendors. Let's make sure they have our software."
IDC predicts that 2.9 million stylus-based handhelds will be sold this year in the Asia-Pacific region, which includes such countries as China, Taiwan and Korea but excludes Japan. Sales are projected to rise 34 percent next year, to nearly 4 million units.
The English version of Pocket PC 2002 debuted in October. HP, Compaq, Toshiba and others already introduced new handhelds with the OS.