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Sharp Redesigns PDA for Net Access

Sharp Corp., top player in Japan's personal digital assistant (PDA) market, has launched a new information service to help reposition its popular Zaurus PDAs as "anytime, anywhere, by anyone" mobile Internet computing devices.

Sharp has dominated the Japanese PDA market since the release of its first Zaurus model in October 1993. Since then, more than 1.9 million Zaurus units have been sold.

"But today, you can't satisfy users by merely selling them hardware," said Isamu Washizuka, a Sharp vice president. "The way of using has become more important than the hardware itself."

So in March, Sharp launched a website catering to the communication and information needs of mobile users.

And recent Zaurus models, including a high-end model released today, have been redesigned to ensure quick and easy Internet access.

"We will furnish our hardware customers with information services as well," said Sharp director Toshiaki Urushisako about the Sharp Space Town for Zaurus website, launched on March 20.

In addition to e-mail and Internet access, Sharp Space Town offers business-related resources from Nikkei Business Publications; information on movies, restaurants, and events such as concerts from Pia Corp.; and job-search assistance from Recruit. Service fees range from 300 to 500 yen (US$2.50 to $4.16) per month.

Sharp hopes to sign up 250,000 Sharp Space Town subscribers within the first year.

"With the relentless spread of networks -- exemplified by the Internet -- there is an ever-increasing need for digital information appliances," said Toshiaki Urushisako, general manager of Sharp's Information Systems Group.

With that precept in mind, recent Zaurus models emphasize fast and simple mobile Internet access by incorporating such features as an "Internet reservation recording" function.

This enables users to set their Zaurus to automatically download pre-selected contents at a specified time, such as early morning when phone rates are lower, for viewing later in the day.

Sharp's next aim is to enhance the capabilities of the Zaurus as a business communication terminal.

A Business Zaurus model that will enable users to access Lotus Notes Domino groupware on an IBM server via a conventional telephone line or cellular phone is planned for a September release.



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