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T-Mobile Rolls Out PDA with Danger's Software

Can the already cramped wireless device market get any more crowded?

Yes it can, and it did this week when wireless software maker start-up Danger, along with its handheld maker partner T-Mobile USA unveiled a personal digital assistant that lets customers surf the Web, send and receive e-mail, chat using AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), play games, shoot and e-mail mobile pictures, and of course, make phone calls.

The T-Mobile Sidekick is the latest convergent device to hit the saturated market. While this might seem to relegate the product to a dubious position, analysts said the PDA's price, at $199, will hook customers.

Sidekick features a 2.6-inch backlit monochrome screen, full HTML browser, and a clickable scroll wheel for easy browsing. The monochrome screen swivels up to offer a full QWERTY keyboard. The device also offers the multi-task ability of a PC is some regards, because consumers may Web surf with AIM active in the background.

T-Mobile Sidekick retails for $199 after a $50 rebate. The package features an introductory price plan of $39.99 a month, with unlimited data usage plus 200 anytime voice minutes and 1,000 weekend minutes, all with free long distance.

Gartner analyst Todd Kort told internetnews.com that while the $199 price tag may attract consumers when stacked up against competing wireless PDAs from Research In Motion, the $39.99 service price plan may be a bit steep.

"I think this will attract particular kinds of users," Kort said. "If you already have a mobile phone, or are primarly a phone person, this may not be the device for you. The phone service is adequate. But if you like the instant messaging features, Web browsing and e-mail on such a device, you might be interested."

Kort, who has been using the device for a day, enjoyed certain features, notably the monochrome screen, which he said features a higher resolution than handhelds from Palm or Handspring.

Kort said he believed the Sidekick is more likely to attract consumers than enterprise customers because the technology is proprietary. Industry users tends to prefer products that are more flexible or ubiquitous, including Palm's OS and Microsoft Windows CE. However, he did say it would be possible for Sidekick to steal some small businesses customers from RIM.

"But the big tradeoff there is ease-of-use," Kort said. "Sidestep is very easy to navigate."

Indeed, Bellevue, Wash.'s T-Mobile is the exclusive provider of its device, selling it at some 650 T-Mobile-owned retail stores, CompUSA and at its Web site. T-Mobile USA is a member of the T-Mobile International group, the mobile telecommunications arm of Deutsche Telekom.

Like T-Mobile, Palo Alto, Calif.-based Danger's much-ballyhooed wireless software, called Hiptop, is angling to compete with Research in Motion's (RIM) and Palm's software. The Hiptop Wireless Solution includes a device design that can be private labeled by wireless carriers, a platform for the development of third-party applications, and a back-end software framework that supports the delivery of data services.

Danger announced in August that it would use technology from Intel, Beatnik, Kyocera and TTPCom, as well as license third-party applications and content to support the Hiptop Development Platform, supported by UIEvolution, nGame, Upoc, ActiveBuddy, Pumatech and SEVEN.

As for PDAs for the enterprise -- a segment often vaunted by wireless device experts -- the picture might not be as rosy as the reality. There are signficant costs associated with providing staffers with devices to use, according to a study from Gartner, which found that the total cost of onwership for a PDA per user can be about $3,000 a year.

60 percent of the cost will go to capital (this includes hardware, software and network services), 30 percent to operations (this includes technical services and support, peer support, application management, and development), and 10 percent to administration (includes evaluation, implementation and training).

"When assessing the total costs of wireless mobile products, we found that the more capable the device the higher the cost. The more processing power it has, the more applications it can store, leading to higher support and operational costs," said Phil Redman, research director for Gartner. "Beyond typical costs for a mobile device, there is an additional and recurring cost element for wireless connectivity."