Hewlett-Packard's Jornada handheld computers display about 4,000 colors, rather than the 65,000 colors the company had promised. The PC maker is offering refunds to all customers unhappy with the quality of the devices. Although the problem was initially thought to be limited to the Jornada 540 series, HP has confirmed that the earlier Jornada 430 and 420 devices also suffered from the glitch.
"It hasn't slowed sales at all," said Carly Fiorina yesterday at the HP Securities Analyst Conference, noting that many customers were happy with 4,000 colors.
Today, the company acknowledged that all color Jornadas suffer from the issue and said that it would implement a refund program for all interested customers.
"What we are going to do is offer a full refund to any customer," said HP spokeswoman Anne McGrath. She said that after the problem was spotted in the Jornada 540, the company examined earlier products and discovered the glitch affected those models as well.
"In the year since those products have been on the market, we haven't heard from anyone about this," she added.
The new Jornada is one of the first devices to use Pocket PC, the revamped version of Microsoft's struggling Windows CE operating system for handhelds. Pocket PC devices from HP and other hardware partners were widely perceived to be on the right track to attack market leader Palm and possibly recover from several early missteps.
Palm, which dominates the market with about 80 percent market share, according to International Data Corp., benefited from complaints that Microsoft Windows CE software was buggy and difficult to use. Further, the early hardware from Microsoft's partners was seen as clunky and unwieldy. Palm's first color device, the Palm IIIc, was released this year to tepid reviews and slow sales.
HP, along with Casio and Compaq, announced revamped models in April featuring the new software. The display problems may derail that momentum, analysts say.
Although much of the hardware, and the Microsoft Windows CE software that runs the device, are capable of delivering full 16-bit color, the Jornada graphics controller is only capable of 12-bit color, which shrinks the color spectrum the device can display.
Currently, Pocket Internet Explorer, one of the heavily promoted new features available with the Pocket PC, and applications from Sierra Imaging are the only known applications currently affected by the reduction in color spectrum.
Microsoft, which recently significantly reduced the price of its development tools in an effort to spur third-party application work, has positioned the devices as multimedia powerhouses, capable of fancy digital imaging and video.
"This issue is particularly disturbing for Pocket PC users as all three major hardware manufacturers and Microsoft aggressively pushed the high-end graphics capabilities of the Pocket PC as a clear advantage over Palm handhelds," ARS analyst Matt Sargent said in a research note. "These high-end 'techie' advantages have been what has kept this small group of users loyal to the Windows CE/Pocket PC platform."
"HP now faces the daunting task of trying to make these users realize that they probably wouldn't have used the full 65,000 colors."
Jornada users can return the products either directly to HP or to the retailer where the product was purchased, McGrath said. There are no immediate product refreshes or upgrades planned and no plans to reduce prices.
"We want to apologize and offer a full refund to any customer that wants it," McGrath said. "The product has been very well received by customers and there aren't a lot of applications that require 16-bit color."
HP says the Jornada 540 has been flying off shelves, which reflects both the positive reviews for the design of the hardware and improvements made to the Windows CE operating system.