Smaller, Cheaper Pocket PCs on the Horizon

Microsoft and Samsung today announced a concept design for Pocket PCs that they say will greatly reduce costs and development time for manufacturers of the devices. The Redmond, Wash.-based software giant hopes that the design will prompt more companies to create low-cost handhelds based on its Pocket PC 2002 platform.

“We’re enabling a broader set of companies to build smart devices,” said Ed Suwanjindar, product manager for Microsoft Mobile Devices. “We’re trying to help ignite new market segmentsin this case, the low-price segment.”

Suwanjindar said the reference design could reduce development time enough so that a new manufacturer could bring a product to market in a matter of months. “A company could get to market very cheaply and very quickly without having to do a lot of development on their own.”

The design follows the “thinner and lighter devices trend,” Suwanjindar said, exemplified by the Toshiba e310 and the ViewSonic V35. “Pocket PCs are being put on a diet and a budget.”

Devices based on the new design would be significantly smaller than Pocket PCs available now. The design calls for 4.1-by-2.8-inch grayscale model that weighs in at just 2.9 ounces. ViewSonic’s V35, which weighs 4.2 ounces, is currently the lightest Pocket PC; the average weight of the devices is more than 6 ounces.

The reference design also incorporates a Samsung ARM9-based S3C2410 application processor, a 3.5-inch QVGA display, multimedia card, SD and SDIO expansion card capabilities.

While the Palm OS still dominates the handheld market, with 50 percent of sales worldwide, Pocket PC devices are closing in. A recent report from research firm Gartner Dataquest revealed that handhelds based on Microsoft’s Windows CE platform comprised 28.3 percent of the global PDA market in the third quarter of 2002, compared to 16.2 percent a year ago.

New low-cost devices should stimulate growth in Pocket PC shipments. The average price of a Pocket PC today is nearly $600, but Suwanjindar said that he expects the reference design to lead to more activity in the sub-$300 Pocket PC market. So far, the only devices in that category are ViewSonic’s $299 V35 and Dell’s two Axim X5 Pocket PC models, which will cost $199 and $299 (after a $50 rebate). At 6.9 ounces, however, the Dell handhelds, which will be released on Monday, hardly fit the thin and light bill.

Todd Kort, an analyst with Gartner Dataquest, thinks that Microsoft may be taking aim at Palm’s entry-level handheld, the Zire. He noted that the design was for a grayscale device, which based on current market pricing, would probably be in the $99-$150 range.

If it comes down to a battle between the Zire and a $99 Pocket PC, the Zire will probably win, he said. “It’s going to be hard to do a very low-end Pocket PC device. I think if anyone will succeed in the sub-$100 market, it’ll be Palm.”

Vikki Lipset is managing editor of sister site, ThinkMobile.

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