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HP moots handheld PC comeback

Tide turning towards portable form factor?

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Notebook-style mobile devices based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system could make a return to the mass market courtesy of Hewlett-Packard.

Speaking with ComputerWire on a recent visit to HP's Office of Strategy and Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, center director Niklas Johnsson said it was possible that HP would re-introduce such a device into its range as a result of changing market forces and the greater ease of adapting Microsoft's latest mobile operating systems to devices of different form factors.

Today, only a few companies still sell Microsoft-powered machines in the same general form factor. These include NEC (MobilePro 900c), Psion Teklogix (NetBook Pro), and little-known Chinese manufacturer Zupera Technology (SmartBook).

In mid-2002, HP introduced its final device based on Microsoft's Handheld PC 2000 platform, the Jornada 728. However, notebook-type mobile devices had already fallen from favour by this time with the rise of more portable tablet-style handhelds from Palm and various Microsoft licensees, most notably Compaq's iPaq range.

However, the tide may now be turning. Psion has reported considerable interest from the corporate market for its NetBook Pro. The Microsoft-based device, essentially an update to its original Symbian-powered Series 7/NetBook device, appears especially popular for mobile CRM, field force and sales force automation applications.

HP, it seems, may now be ready to follow suit. "It is one form factor we are considering," Johnsson told ComputerWire. "There is room in the market for [such devices]."

Microsoft's current Windows Mobile 2003 Second Edition supports high-resolution, VGA displays in landscape mode with data entry possible using either the touch screen or a Qwerty keyboard. These features remove the form factor limitations that have resulted in Pocket PCs looking very similar while also maintaining application portability.

Wireless connectivity in the form of wireless LAN and Bluetooth also add to the attraction of handheld PC-style devices to mobile workers as does their long battery life relative to notebook PCs.

The last version of Microsoft's embedded software designed specifically for mini-notebook devices (with or without touch screens), known as Microsoft Handheld PC 2000, was based on Windows CE 3.0 and dates back to 2000. Since then, manufacturers wishing to produce notebook-type devices running on embedded Microsoft software have based them on bespoke implementations of Windows CE, compromising application portability and mass-market appeal.

Motorola's forthcoming MPx Pocket PC Phone, which features a full Qwerty keypad in a twin-hinged clamshell design, is a clear indication of how the latest Pocket PC software can accommodate non-traditional PDA thinking.

Mobile phone giant Nokia is also rumored to be investigating the market for sub-notebook style computers based on embedded software. However, recent stories that the company would use its handset-oriented Series 60 version of Symbian OS as the basis for such a machine would appear unlikely given that platform's heritage.

The Series 80 variant designed for its Qwerty-equipped Communicator devices would be a more obvious choice should the rumour be substantiated.

Source: ComputerWire/Datamonitor

Related Research: Datamonitor, "Microsoft mobile - putting it all together" (BFTC0859)

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