Union of handhelds, phones tightens at Mobile Focus

HP, Ericsson, Motorola and others show off upcoming products and prototypes of devices that will integrate cellular capabilities into PDAs or vice versa at Mobile Focus.

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
3 min read
LAS VEGAS--The marriage of mobile phones and personal digital assistants will occur rapidly, if manufacturers have anything to say about it.

Hewlett-Packard, Ericsson, Motorola and others showed off upcoming products and prototypes of devices that will integrate cellular capabilities into PDAs or vice versa at Mobile Focus, a pre-Comdex event that took place here Sunday night.

On Monday, for instance, both HP and Casio will announce packages designed to allow their respective Pocket PC handhelds to take cellular traffic. For HP's Jornada, consumers will be able to buy a Novatel Minstrel 540 wireless modem bundled with service from Omnisky or GoAmerica, while Japan's Casio will announce a similar deal involving GoAmerica and a Pocket Spider modem from Nextcell.

Both offerings will Comdex 2000:
Back to the future be similar to packages already available with Compaq Computer's iPaq or some of Palm's handhelds. Under these deals, users sign up for monthly service and receive the modem at a subsidized price. With Casio, for example, the Pocket Spider modem costs $199 if purchased in conjunction with GoAmerica's service. Other wireless services can be brought in through the modem but raise the price to $249, said Scott Nelson, product manager for Casio. The cost of service is between $39.95 and $49 a month, depending on the carrier and the service plan.

"It covers 80 percent of the metropolitan areas in the U.S.," Nelson said.

HP has demonstrated wireless connections before, but this is the first time the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company will market them with Jornadas, said Debbie Rivers, a company representative. The Novatel modem was designed specifically for Jornadas, but is very similar to those offered with Palm's devices, she said.

A number of wireless modems and service offerings will be on display this week at Comdex, according to Ed Suwanjindar, product manager of the mobile devices division at Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft. With the growth of the device market, the company is putting the heft of its marketing organization behind seeding development of add-ons and other enhancements.

"Our role is in the matchmaking, making the introductions," he said.

Cell phone manufacturers, meanwhile, are integrating organizer capabilities into their phones. In December, Sweden's Ericsson will begin to market its R380 world phone in the United States, according to company representatives. The R380 is approximately the size of a standard cell phone, but a horizontal screen--about the size of a package of Dentyne gum--occupies one side of the phone. The larger screen allows Ericsson to incorporate an organizer based on the Symbian operating system.

To use the organizer, users hold the phone sideways. The R380, which will cost just under $700, has already been released in Europe.

Motorola, of Schaumberg, Ill., unwrapped its first Java-enabled cell phone, which also doubles as a pager and a two-way walkie-talkie.

The forthcoming phone will support the Java programming language, allowing people to download into their phones software programs such as games, address books and calculators. It is due in the first half of 2001 and will cost between $149 and $199.

While Ericsson and Motorola demonstrated prototypes that actually worked, Finland's Nokia showed off a plastic prototype.

Nokia displayed a yellow, egg-shaped handheld device intended to serve as a cell phone, personal digital assistant and camera. The phone has a color screen and supports the Epoc operating system from Symbian. Nokia executives said the company will start releasing some of the features in its family of cell phones next year.

Some home networking companies also demonstrated their products at the event. SimpleDevices, a wireless start-up whose investors include Casio and wireless equipment company Proxim, showed off three wireless Internet devices that will be available in the first quarter of 2001. The devices included an Internet alarm clock that streams Web-based content, such as music and news, and a music gadget that allows people to play MP3 files--i.e., music downloaded from the Net--on their stereos.

Mountain View, Calif.-based SimpleDevices, which will partner with consumer electronics and tech companies that will resell its products, also showed off an adapter for Palm handhelds and other PDAs, allowing people to listen to MP3s and Net-based radio stations on the devices.

Among other companies showing devices at the evening event, Japan's Sony presented its Digital Handicam Megapixel, a digital video camera that includes a Megapixel still video camera. The package also includes an application called MPED Movie mode, which allows users to compress and send 60-second films over email. The camera will cost $2,000.