Start-up merges cell phone and PC into a handheld

Almost everyone has a cell phone and a notebook, but cPC says they will sell one box that does it all.

Michael Kanellos Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Michael Kanellos is editor at large at CNET News.com, where he covers hardware, research and development, start-ups and the tech industry overseas.
Michael Kanellos
4 min read
It's a cell phone. It's a computer. It's the two invaluable companions of the modern executive in one.

DualCor Technologies next month will unveil the cPC, a full-fledged handheld Windows XP computer that also comes with a built-in smart phone that runs Windows Mobile 5.0.

The cPC is 6.5 inches long, 3.3 inches wide, 1.2 inches thick and has a 5-inch diagonal screen. It will be aimed at sales representatives and executives who travel extensively, said CEO Steven Hanley, who joined the company seven months ago.

There are signs of demand for such a device. A small but growing number of white-collar workers have begun to trade in their notebooks for BlackBerrys and other handhelds.

Sony and start-up OQO have already introduced full-fledged handheld Windows computers. Customers, however, have not snapped up these devices, in part because of short battery life and limited performance.

Through some engineering and design advances, the cPC's battery lasts long enough to let users run applications simultaneously for eight hours or more, he said.

"We seemed to have cracked the code," Hanley claimed.

The cPc jams two devices into one package, Hanley said. The computer part of the equation consists of Windows XP Tablet operating system, a 1.5GHz C7-M processor from Via Technologies and 1GB of DDR 2 memory.

DualCor went with a Via Technologies chip because it consumed a maximum of 7.5 watts of power, but still provided enough performance to function like a regular computer.

"We had an older version that ran a Transmeta chip, but it took 7.5 to 9 seconds for the document to load," Hanley explained.

The cell phone aspect of the device has Windows Mobile 5.0 Pocket PC phone edition, a PXA communications processor from Intel, 128MB of DRAM and 1GB of flash memory.

Together, the computer and cell phone components share a 40GB hard drive.

While this might look like component overkill, incorporating two distinct computing platforms extends the device's battery life. In full computing mode, the battery lasts about 3 to 4 hours, about the same as a standard laptop.

However, the device can run for eight to 12 hours in "smart phone" mode. Because of the memory footprint and other technology, users can access and receive e-mail in smart-phone mode and run applications such as PowerPoint in a limited fashion. As a result, the PC components and OS are asleep most of the time.

"When you pull up an application you can decide whether to run it in x86 mode or on the smart phone," he said. The choice between using the mobile parts or PC elements can also be automated.

The cPC also comes with a few additional features that add shine to its sparkle factor. The screen is made from special glass, manufactured by LG, which provides a brightness level of 200 NITS, which the company claims is brighter than most other smart phone screens.

The company figured how to include TabletPC functionality without incorporating a digitizer, which is an additional chip.

Users can also dock the cPC like a CPU, plugging it into an outlet and LCD screen and it will feel no different than using a regular desktop.

One thing the cPC won't be is cheap. The system--which will get shown off at the Computer Electronics Show and become available in March--will carry a $1,500 price tag, although customers will get volume discounts for buying several at once.

Price could be a problem, said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies.

"There are a lot of subsidies out there in the BlackBerry world, so people aren't used to paying a lot of money for them. Notebooks are going down in price" he said. "I don't know where the magic number is, but it is somewhere in the mid-hundreds."

Nonetheless, the design could grab the attention of shoppers. "It pushes the envelope on what devices can do. It will certainly get a lot of raised eyebrows," Kay added.

Several large companies and consulting firms have already agreed to purchase units, at least for trial, he said. The company has also attracted advisers such as Gordon Bell, the Microsoft Research luminary, and Accenture's Cindy Warner, who advises large corporations on enterprise resource planning and corporate software issues.

Although this is DualCor's first product, the company has been around since 2001. It was founded by Bryan Cupps and Tim Glass. Earlier, the two founded Cyberslice, the first online pizza-delivery service, back in the mid-'90s when anything seemed possible.

DualCor originally thought it would sell to consumers, a market targeted by OQO and Good Technology. Cupps knew Hanley from when they both worked in the enterprise software industry and they ran into each other again in 2004.

Hanley was immediately enthusiastic. He recalls telling Cupps: "What you have here is genius, but it's aimed at the wrong people. This is for the global knowledge worker."