Toshiba Chases HP iPaq Lead

Built-in wireless

ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

By its own admission, Toshiba Corp is today only a "blip on the radar" of PDA market leaders Hewlett-Packard Co and Palm Inc, but its latest range is intended to catapult it into contention by embracing growing corporate demand for wireless handheld devices.

The Tokyo, Japan-based company's latest e740 is among the first Microsoft Pocket PC-based devices to use Intel's 400MHz PXA250 Xscale chip, but its key differentiator is on-board support for either Wi-Fi or Bluetooth wireless communications.

According to Jonathan Ferman, PDA product marketing manager for Toshiba Europe GmbH, there is clear demand in the market for both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled devices, but some of this demand is diluted by the weight and size constraints that today's add-on module-based approaches to wireless PDA systems impose on users. With the e740, Toshiba claims to have preserved the pocket-friendly weight and size dimensions that most PDA users want, while still incorporating one or other wireless flavors in the basic design.

Built-in Bluetooth connectivity, which allows PDAs to be easily connected to the internet via a Bluetooth mobile handset, has certainly paid dividends for HP, whose Compaq iPaq H3870 model has enjoyed great success on the back of its standard Bluetooth capability.

Toshiba is going one better than this with the e740, which is the first PDA to offer built-in Wi-Fi as an option. With the increased power of the PXA250 and onboard wireless, Ferman said the Wi-Fi variant of the e740 is likely to prove popular with users that want to combine portability with access to rich data sets such as engineering manuals.

It is the Bluetooth variant of the e740 that Toshiba believes will be the most popular model. As Compaq's experience with the 3870 has shown, corporate customers are increasingly looking to Bluetooth to provide the gateway between handheld devices and the next-generation mobile phones that offer faster always-on connections via GPRS.

When the e740 formally makes it into the market in the US and Europe in a month's time, Ferman said all three models (including one without any in-built wireless connection) will retail for under 500 pounds ($738). However, he declined to be specific about pricing.

While Toshiba will have to run hard to catch up with Hewlett-Packard, the e740 may go some way to narrowing the gap. According to Ferman, as Toshiba steps up its PDA range, it will stick to the design principles enshrined in the e740, avoiding inelegant approaches that rely on bulky and expensive add-ons such as the so-called sledges used by Compaq, and also integrated standard interfaces wherever possible.

In the e740, for instance, two expansion slots supporting Secure Digital and Compact Flash II are available, and USB is added via a plug-on module just two centimeters longer than the basic device, while having the same width and depth. The same module also supports a VGA port, and will retail for approximately 20 pounds ($30).

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