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Sony to unveil handheld device with Palm OS

The consumer electronics giant will show its hotly awaited entry into the handheld computing market at the PC Expo computer industry trade show.

Sony will show its hand at PC Expo.

The consumer electronics giant will show its hotly awaited entry into the handheld computing market at the giant computer industry trade show, without revealing details about price or feature specifications. PC Expo runs from June 27 to 29 in New York.

Sony plans to preview the personal digital assistant (PDA) at PC Expo, offering the first public glimpse of the much-anticipated handheld device. Executives at a recent company event, including Fujio Nishida, the new president of Sony Electronics, indicated the device will be previewed at PC Expo, which is where Sony first introduced its Vaio computer lines.

"He did mention that at PC Expo it will be displayed," confirmed David Yang, a spokesman for Sony. "It looks like we're planning to follow that plan."

The company has been characteristically tight-lipped about plans for the device, which will be based on Palm's operating system. Analysts say the PDA will likely be the first of a series of products aimed at boosting Sony's presence in the wireless and gaming market.

Analysts familiar with Sony's plans believe the company will eventually release a line of products offering wireless connectivity, personal organization, some gaming functionality and color displays. The products will range from a sub-$100 messaging device to a higher-end PDA with wireless communication and color displays, analysts say.

Sony is expected initially to offer products based on Palm's operating system, but it also has licensed Symbian's OS for smart cell phones. The company also announced a deal with Sun today to create Java-enabled smart phones for release in 2001.

The entry into the wireless market reflects the company's ongoing transformation from traditional consumer electronics to digital networking. Using its Vaio PCs, Internet-enabled Playstation2 game consoles and television set-top boxes, as well as mobile and wireless devices like PDAs and cell phones, Sony is attempting to position itself as the dominant brand at merging numerous devices in the home.

But in implementing that strategy, the company faces potential hazards. Sony runs the risk of cannibalizing existing product sales as it attempts to sell consumers on overarching themes and strategies for the future, said Marge Costello, editor of industry newsletter CE Online News.

"They have to reconcile working toward the future with continuing to produce hardware," said Costello, who has followed Sony for 20 years. "Developing services and content takes time and effort, and they also have to continue to manufacture and ship product that's going to maintain revenues."

The PC Expo demonstration was apparently almost derailed. "Because of recent developments which have occurred, we're uncertain if we're going to be showing the PDA at PC Expo," Yang said earlier, declining to elaborate on the circumstances leading to any delays.

The developments may be related to recent management changes. The company named Nishida president of Sony Electronics, while Michael Vitelli was named president of the consumer electronics group, which will market the PDA. Earlier this year, president Nobuyuki Idei announced he was ceding his position to Kunitake Ando, remaining on as chairman of the company.