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Sharp wants to lend a handheld

The electronics company will unveil a new pocket organizer that could steal some thunder from U.S. Robotics' PalmPilot organizer.

Sharp Electronics will unveil a new pocket organizer next Tuesday at PC Expo that could steal some of the thunder from U.S. Robotics (USRX) and its PalmPilot organizer.

Worldwide sales of "smart" handheld devices are expected to increase 77.1 percent this year, according to a recent forecast from International Data Corporation, as consumers are interested in finding ways to store, organize, and retrieve information while they are away from their desktop computers.

In particular, consumers have been looking to the USR's PalmPilot organizers because of their diminutive size and, to a lesser extent, the Windows CE-based handheld PC devices. Sharp hopes to stunt the growth of PalmPilot's popularity by offering similar capabilities at a lower price.

The new SE-500 has a built-in 14.4-kbps modem, 1MB of memory, a backlit screen, productivity software such as a contact database and email program, and the ability to synchronize with popular Windows-based information organizers, just like the Pilot, but that sell for $300. The PalmPilot Pro with 1MB of memory retails for $389, and the optional modem is priced at $128.

One of the reasons cited for the PalmPilot's rising popularity is its compact design, which allows it to slip easily into a shirt pocket. By including a modem on the SE-500, Sharp had to increase the size and weight, although not by much.

The SE-500 weighs in at 6.5 ounces, compared with the PalmPilot's 5.7. Sharp says that the device weighs less than a PalmPilot with the modem attached, however.

These organizers are driving market growth right now, but analysts says Windows CE devices will play a role in the growth of the handheld business. Although the new operating system is still being refined, it validated the market by drawing big-name companies such as Compaq Computer and Philips.

Sharp has yet to place its bets on Windows CE and will instead continue to offer its Zaurus companion based on a proprietary operating system.

"We'll continue to monitor the Windows CE situation. We don't think that Windows CE 1.0 was that good a solution for the handheld market, but we'll continue to monitor its development," said John Brandewie, a product marketing manager for Sharp.

Sharp added the SE-500 is expected to be available in midsummer.