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HP handhelds take on PC features

HP targets its efforts toward evolving these devices as corporate computers.

Although handheld computing devices still seem to fall into the category of gadgetry, Hewlett-Packard (HWP) is targeting its marketing and development efforts toward evolving these devices as the latest extension of business computing.

The company is incorporating enterprise management software into its currently high-end Windows CE devices and will come out with two new handheld computers for the business market this fall, said Tom Carr, product manager, palmtop PC products for HP. HP will also likely adopt larger form-factors that are more conducive to "two-handed" computing for some models. Windows CE devices typically do not come with keyboards that are big enough for speedy touch typing.

"We've been looking at form-factor [design] research," Carr said. Eventually, CE devices, both from HP and others, could incorporate ten-inch screens and larger keyboards. "You ought to see potentially larger form-factors."

The promotion of handheld devices as a serious business devices will likely become more prevalent as time goes on, said Gerry Purdy, chief executive officer of Mobile Insights. While the need for remote computing devices has always existed, the technology up until recently hasn't performed well enough.

HP's efforts, along with IBM's announcement that it would make pocket-sized devices on the PalmPilot design, should give this effort a great deal of momentum.

HP jump-started its business angle this week by announcing that it would incorporate its desktop management software, called TopTools, into the 300LX and 320LX palmtop computers. The software essentially allows information system administrators to monitor the health of any computing device on a network and take corrective action. In the 300LX, for instance, an administrator could shut down a palmtop remotely, Carr said.

HP also discounted the 320LX to $599, from $699.

Later this fall, the company will release two new palmtop computers; more will come in the spring of 1998. While he would not commit to form-factors for these devices, he indicated that large form-factors were in the company's sights.

Larger computers, added Purdy, would fit into market research. Large demand seems to exist for the small, pocket-sized devices and larger, nearly mininotebook-like devices. CE-type devices currently just don't seem to be cutting it.

"The big problems are the screen is difficult to read and the keyboard is impossible," Purdy said. In the future, standard handheld devices will likely increase to 6.5 inches by 9 inches, an increase over today's average.

"Smaller will sell, and bigger will sell," he said.

Diana Hwang, senior analyst at International Data Corporation, said that Windows CE 2.0, which will be released next week, enhances the OS to the point where handheld devices can be considered full-fledged business productivity tools, approaching the functionality of notebook PCs.

Additional capabilities in CE 2.0 will also allow vendors to improvise on traditional device designs and bring other products, such as cell phones, into the orbit of the enterprise.