If you build it, they will come--eventually.
Microsoft today is shipping the third version of the Windows CE operating system to handheld PC manufacturers. But only one major vendor out of 12 total handheld PC vendors immediately announced a device running Windows CE 2.11.
Over the last few months, Microsoft's latest edition of its operating system for handheld devices has become largely synonymous with the larger class of devices that were expected to run it, code-named Jupiter. But today, when only Sharp announced an actual Jupiter device, it became clear that Microsoft does not enjoy the same influence over product development cycles with handheld PC vendors that it does with desktop PC makers.
Vadem's Clio CE notebook, which shares the same design as Sharp's TriPad.
"The desktop and the handheld world are quite different," said Diana Hwang, a mobile computing analyst at IDC, who added that she expects most vendors to announce products by the end of the year. "How you market them and how you sell them is a little bit different, and it's a new way of doing business for Microsoft."
Today's Windows CE 2.11 rollout, which was expected to occur later this month at an industry event in Denver, was also predicted to be accompanied by detailed announcements from its hardware partners, namely NEC, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard, Samsung, and Philips.
Those announcements may indeed still be made next week when the conference opens--but actual commercial products are not expected, for the most part, until later this year or early next year.
"Some [device manufacturers] will demonstrate new hardware...next week at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference in Denver," but initial "quantities" of devices are not expected to be available in stores until later this year and "widespread availability" isn't expected until 1999, according to Microsoft.
|"Jupiter" devices in the works|
|Sharp Mobilon Pro||$899||October '98|
|Sharp TriPad||$999||October '98|
|HP LX-series palmtops||NA||expected late '98|
|Vadem Clio||$999||expected late '98|
|NTS DreamWriter IT||NA||NA|
Compaq won't be among those immediately introducing a Jupiter product, according to executives from the Houston-based PC maker. "We are in the process of evaluating and developing a Jupiter-based product," said Annie Bacon, director of Compaq's handheld division. "We are not going to be announcing a product next week."
Sharp's H/PCs, though introduced today, is expected to be available by the end of the month. And HP, which made a vague announcement of support for the new OS today, will show a prototype at next week's event, but will not be shipping until late 1998.
"What we've done is release the software. The software can run on all handheld form factor PCs," said Phil Holden, Windows CE product manager. "What we've had to do is write enabling drivers to allow for this larger [Jupiter] form factor device."
"This allows us to get word out about the software. Our partners are doing demos at next week's event, and there will be lots of products on display, some which will be available next year," Holden said.
Some lesser known companies are introducing Handheld Pro devices, however. NTS Computer Systems is doing a CE-based machine for the education market not unlike Apple's curvy green (and discontinued) e-Mate in its appearance.
Vadem is also offering a uniquely designed product similar to Sharp's TriPad (the two co-designed the device)--the 9.4-inch color display on both the Vadem Clio and Sharp TriPad can swing down over the keyboard for use as a tablet style computer. The Clio includes handwriting recognition software for notetaking and other uses in the tablet position. The screen also tilts forward and back from two hinges, allowing for use in cramped spaces or even in an easel-style form for presentations.
Windows CE 2.11 offers some bug fixes as well as a new email client and expanded database support, but the thrust of the upgrade centers around support for Jupiter's larger screens and expanded connectivity options. Additionally, retail upgrades for owners of older H/PCs are going to be relatively hard to come by, so for the time being, Jupiter devices are the only hardware platform for the new OS.
All Jupiter-class devices use CE 2.11, but the new version of software for these devices is called CE Handheld Pro edition, while the version that runs on current handheld devices is called CE Handheld edition.
"Microsoft is trying to get away from confusion of operating system (OS) version numbers versus the software that runs on top of the OS for each platform," said Russ Chinoy, senior manager of product planning and management for Sharp.
The larger form factor devices are being dubbed handheld PCs--even though they closely resemble small notebook PCs running Windows 95--in order to avoid confusion between the two different devices, Chinoy explained.
"It's good to position [the Handheld Pro] more as a handheld so as to not confuse them with notebooks," despite the confusing naming scheme, Chinoy said. That's because they are intended to be PC companion devices that are used mainly for email and Web browsing as opposed to heavy duty document creation. But that creates a confusion about the difference between the smaller handhelds and the Jupiter devices and what software runs on them.
Microsoft's Holden has said that future CE devices will be dedicated computers that are used almost exclusively for applications such as email.
"How we see these devices playing is as specific-use devices to act as a companion to either a notebook or a desktop. A lot of notebooks are often desktop replacements. If that's the functionality you need, i.e., full Windows[and] add on peripherals, you really need a notebook," Holden said. "If in certain circumstances you need a limited function device that has the ability to browse the Web, do email, and take notes, these may be very appropriate in certain circumstances."
Holden said they are working on new merchandising programs that take these class devices out of the locked glass cabinets they are typically found in and have them shown connected to PCs in an effort to spark sales.
"Sometime next year, you might see people bundling handheld PCs and desktop PCs together. There are people that do need some mobility, but not a full-fledged laptop, and this will give PC makers the ability to upsell a PC companion device to customers."