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Casio, Siemens plan wireless CE-based device

In its latest attempt at proving the Windows CE naysayers wrong, Microsoft announces plans for a new handheld offering wireless Internet access.

In its latest attempt at proving the Windows CE naysayers wrong, Microsoft today announced plans for a new handheld offering wireless Internet access.

Japan's Casio and German technology group Siemens today detailed a strategic partnership to build devices based on Microsoft's scaled-down Windows CE operating system for handhelds and other non-desktop applications.

The announcement marks another salvo in the handheld fight for the Redmond, Wash.-based software giant. Microsoft has not dominated this market the way it has the desktop operating system business, weathering defections from key manufacturing partners and strong competition from Palm Computing.

Once considered a niche market, handhelds have gained credibility and attention because of their growing popularity and an industrywide interest in accessing the Internet in new ways. The various devices from Palm garner about 75 percent of the handheld market, despite Microsoft's efforts to push CE.

Recently, Microsoft confirmed that it will re-launch the products associated with Windows CE as Windows Powered. It will drop the CE name altogether from consumer products in a tacit admission that marketing efforts to date had been largely unsuccessful.

But there are signs a turnaround is in the works: Last week, Microsoft signed a major deal with Swedish cell phone maker Ericsson to provide software for its Internet-enabled mobile phones. And today, Casio, which makes the most popular Windows-based handheld, the Cassiopeia, announced it is teaming up with Siemens to develop a high-end palm-size PC.

The prototype, expected by next year's CeBit trade show in Germany, is slated to hit all the hottest consumer electronics trends: digital music and video, color display, wireless email and Net access, and cell phone capabilities, in addition to typical handheld functions.

"The birth of a new strategic alliance between Casio and Siemens creates a strong foundation with a powerful partner, which opens up totally new market expansion potential for the Cassiopeia in the wireless Internet market," Kazuo Kashio, president of Casio, said in a statement today.

Both Casio and Siemens, which is known for making a variety of telecommunications products, will continue to develop their own individual "information and communication devices," according to the companies.

With the exception of the wireless communication features, Casio offers most of these options in its higher-end Cassiopeia products. These handhelds, while popular among CE-based devices, still do not compare to sales of handhelds from Palm Computing. Many consumers have found these multimedia-rich devices too bulky, battery-draining and expensive to use as a true PDA (personal digital assistant). But the addition of wireless Internet access may change the equation, the thinking goes.

The Casio-Siemens products will work with both today's wireless networks, as well as upcoming higher-bandwidth mobile radio standards, according to the companies.