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Vtech touts colorful handhelds

Taking a page from Apple's play book, the Hong Kong-based company will unveil handheld computers in an array of colors.

A company called Vtech wants to make a colorful splash in the market for handhelds currently dominated by the Palm organizer from 3Com.

Hong Kong-based VTech, best known in the U.S. for selling phones, has taken a page out of Apple Computer's play book and will introduce its first handheld computer in an array of colors, including red, white, yellow, pink, and blue.

Apple's iMac computer, which comes in the colors grape, blueberry, tangerine, lime, and strawberry, has helped revitalize the company's sales. Although other PC companies have yet to follow Apple with their own multi-colored machines, the emphasis on individuality and design has sent a rumble through the market and is now cropping up in peripherals and handhelds. Some PC makers are expected to release newfangled PCs with an emphasis on style later this year, said sources. EMachines last year, in fact, said that they were gearing up an iMac knock-off.

"VTech Information products will serve a large consumer market that includes progressive, Internet-savvy women, busy parents, students of all ages, young people, and professionals," the company says on its Web site.

"To accommodate the array of personalities and tastes these groups represent, VTech Information will offer the Helio in a variety of colors," the site states.

The device runs on a proprietary operating system, so software designed for 3Com's popular Palm organizer or Windows CE-based organizers can't run on the device. The Helio handheld does include the ability to record voice messages in addition to the scheduling and information management functions found on other handhelds.

The device will be priced at $199 and includes a 75-MHz, 32-bit processor, 4MB of memory, and 160 by 160 pixel display. The device is said to be compatible with a number of popular PC information management programs, and hooks up to Windows PCs via a docking cradle.

VTech, which last year generated $861 million in sales, said it will start accepting orders online for the Helio handheld in mid-June.