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Son of Cybiko steps out

The America Online-backed company is preparing to launch a faster and sleeker version of its handheld for teens.

America Online-backed Cybiko is preparing to launch a faster and curvier version of its handheld for teens.

Dubbed Cybiko Xtreme, the wireless handheld received approval this week from the Federal Communications Commission and is due to be launched in the middle of next month. A blurry picture of the device is posted in a pop-up screen on the company's Web site, with a message that the device is "coming soon."

Cybiko introduced its original device in May 2000 and has sold roughly 500,000 of the units so far, spokeswoman Johanna Navari said Thursday.

The new device appears to be smaller than its predecessor and features a design somewhat reminiscent of the underside of a hip sneaker. It will sell for $139, which includes a coupon for a free MP3-playing attachment. In addition to playing MP3s, a Cybiko Xtreme can display related images, a technology it calls MXD.

The handheld comes with 2.5MB of memory and includes organizer functions, a scientific calculator and a four-language dictionary.

Like the original, the new unit can also play games, exchange messages with other units up to 400 feet away and send e-mail by syncing to a PC or if there is a customized wireless network in place, known as a Cybiko Wireless Internet Gate. Cybiko devices can also receive data wirelessly if another Cybiko in the vicinity is connected to a PC that has Internet access and is running Cybiko's software. There is no separate monthly access fee associated with the unit.

Cybiko is trying to create a new digital language for teens, encouraging owners of its devices to exchange messages in a type of shorthand called CyBish. For instance "f" stands for female so "if" would mean "I am a girl," rather than the popular conjunction of the same spelling.

A year ago this week, AOL announced it was taking a stake in the privately held company. Although Cybiko has its sales and marketing operations in Illinois, the bulk of its employees--including its engineers and technicians--are based in Moscow.

Cybiko said AOL will promote the new device in the teen section of its Web site.