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Sony unveils new music player, Dell to release pagers

Although notebooks will likely remain the core focus of most PC manufacturers, companies are clearly rushing in to supply consumers with smaller, limited-function devices, according to industry executives and analysts.

LAS VEGAS--Gadgets are going big time with major manufacturers.

Sony today will announce the "Music Clip," a pen-sized MP3 music player that can hold up to 120 minutes of music, while sources close to Dell Computer say that the company will unveil a branded version of the "Blackberry" pager/organizer later next week, a release that will mark Dell's entry into the device space.

Compaq Computer also plans to show off a simple Internet appliance tomorrow at Comdex here that consists of a wireless keyboard and a thin, all-in-one screen and computer, sources said. While it will likely come with an Intel processsor, it probably won't run on Windows, said sources.

Although notebooks will likely remain the core focus of most PC manufacturers, these companies are clearly rushing in to supply consumers with smaller, limited-function devices, according to industry executives and analysts at MobileFocus, an evening event held the day before the official opening of Comdex, the largest U.S. computer trade show. MobileFocus, held amid the splendor of Caesar's Palace, serves to showcase upcoming portable technology.

Sony today also announced joint development and marketing deals with Microsoft, Palm Computing and IBM.

Sony and Microsoft said they have agreed to collaborate on the interoperability between Microsoft Windows Media and Sony's OpenMG copyright protection technology. Sony has also agreed to support Windows Media Audio, an audio compression technology, on its upcoming VAIO Music Clip in addition to Sony's own proprietary ATRAC3 format.

Sony and Palm will collaborate on the joint development of next-generation Palm handhelds, the company said. Sony will license the Palm OS, while Palm will adopt Sony's Memory Stick storage and data exchange technology as part of its Palm Computing devices.

Comdex: Closing the millennium Palm Computing will enable its devices to support Memory Stick technology and will be able to license systems to third-party manufacturers. Sony plans to use the Palm OS as part of a new line of handheld electronics products expected to include mobile wireless telecommunications-enabled consumer electronics products, the company said.

Sony and IBM, meanwhile, said they have advanced their collaboration on content management technologies for electronic music distribution.

Notebooks, of course, were also a topic at the event. Pentium III notebooks will begin to emerge in numbers toward the end of the year, said sources, while the company will come out with 600-MHz and 650-MHz notebook Pentium IIIs in January.

While these new devices function independently of the PC, they will also serve as a peripheral of a basic computer. Sony's Music Clip will largely be marketed as an extension of the company's Vaio notebook line. Music Clip does not connect to the Internet itself. Rather, users download music onto their PC and then transfer files to the Music Clip via a USB cable. The device, which will sell for $299, will come out in Japan first and make its way to the United States by January, said a Sony spokeswoman.

The Music Clip is about the size, shape and heft of a fountain pen. It comes in a silver or black case with built-in headphones. Music files are stored on flash memory inside the clip. The system does not take advantage of Sony's Memory Stick technology, representatives said.

Dell's move into pagers, meanwhile, will likely be marketed in conjunction with Dell's existing PC product line. The Blackberry pager has emerged in recent months as one of the "must have" items in the computing world. The devices, which are marketed by a number of companies, allow users to receive and send text and numerical messages as well as store data such as personal calendars or phone lists. Put another way, the pagers perform many of the functions of a Palm pilot but come with built-in mobile communications.

Dell did not comment on the product. However, Dell executives have been discussing the company's possible foray into devices since August. The company has also set up an internal division to explore marketing Internet-centric hardware. Some of these future devices may be made by Dell, or by other parties on behalf of Dell.

On the notebook side, Compaq today will showcase its Prosignia 170 Pentium III notebook. The notebook will contain a 500-MHz Pentium III processor and come with a 13.3 or 14.1 inch screen, according to Prosignia marketing manager Charles Lunsford. Compaq is also considering coming out with notebooks containing 15-inch screens next year. Although announced now, consumers won't likely see many of the Prosignia 170 notebooks until mid-December, he added.

Among other news at MobileFocus, e-book developer NuvoMedia announced News Stand, a service that allows owners of the company's RocketBook to download articles from The New York Times and other partnering publications, according to marketing representative Marcus Colombano.

NuvoMedia also rolled out its RocketBook Pro, a new version of the device with 16MB of memory, four times the original RocketBook. Prices of these devices have also come down drastically. Premiering for close to $500 nearly 18 months ago, the RocketBook Pro will sell for $269 while the standard edition will sell for $199.

Although ostensibly a hardware company, NuvoMedia over time will increasingly take more revenue through selling electronic texts. "The long-term vision of the company is as a content company," Colombano said.

News.com's Corey Grice contributed to this report.