PocketPC 2002 Makes its Debut
Slightly over a year after
first launching its Pocket PC platform in April 2000, Microsoft last week took
the wraps off of PocketPC 2002
The software giant unveiled
Pocket PC 2002 at a lavish San Francisco event that trumpeted support from an
extensive supporting cast, including long-time Pocket PC backers Compaq
Computer Corp., Casio Computer Co. Ltd. and Hewlett-Packard Co.
Microsoft also sought to
bolster Pocket PC 2002’s case by introducing a raft of new backers, including
Acer Inc., Fujitsu America Inc., NEC USA Inc., and British Telecom subsidiary
O2 (www.o2.com ).
During his keynote address,
Microsoft President Steve Ballmer acknowledged that his company had enjoyed
spotty success thus far in its quest to create a successful platform for
embedded devices and for mobile computing.
“We've been at this Pocket
PC concept, small computer, palm-sized device category for a while and when we
launched our Pocket PC 2000 device a year and a half ago I kind of said some of
the same things, but the trend continues,” he said. “Our early efforts were
excellent in terms of the underlying technology and they frankly fell way, way,
way, way short in terms of the actual consumer experience.”
At the same time, Ballmer
claimed, the software giant has come a long way since its setbacks in the early
days of Windows CE.
“The Pocket PC 2000 was [a
fantastic product] but the Pocket PC 2002 in some senses is even better, is
even stronger a device,” he averred.
Among other improvements,
Ballmer touted Pocket PC 2002’s enhanced security and new virtual private
networking features, in addition to its (highly-touted) integration with
Microsoft’s Office productivity suite. Pocket PC 2002 also provides client
support for Microsoft’s Windows Terminal Services -– which enables it to establish
Terminal Services sessions with Windows 2000 Server systems -– as well as more
robust development tools.
Unfortunately, Pocket PC
2002 will also ship with a considerably more robust price, to boot. Many new Pocket
PC 2002 models are outfitted with 32 or 64 MB of RAM, for example, and
Microsoft now says that the Pocket PC will run only on the ARM 4
microprocessor, which is based on the StrongARM RISC microprocessor technology
that Intel Corp. acquired from Compaq subsidiary Digital Equipment Corp. in
1997. In consequence of this, most of the vendors that have released pricing
information plan to charge in the neighborhood of $500 for an entry level
Pocket PC 2002 (the Compaq Ipaq H3700). In contrast, many Pocket PC 2000
devices are currently selling for under $300.
And to top it all off,
Microsoft’s protracted perfecting of Windows CE itself may also have turned
some customers off from the Pocket PC -– which is based on version 3.0 of
Windows CE -– especially enterprise developers who’ve had first-hand experience
with Microsoft’s ne’er-do-well embedded OS in its earlier incarnations.
“From a developer’s point of
view, it’s a difficult platform, and there are some vexing bugs still in
[Windows CE] 3.0,” says Christopher Carlins, a software engineer with Applied
Sciences Group Inc. (www.appliedsciencesgroup.com
), a Buffalo, NY-based control systems integrator, who spearheaded an effort to
develop an Internet conferencing application based on Windows CE 3.0. “Looking
at [PocketPC 2002] from a user’s point of view, it might not be that bad -– they
do a really good job of reduplicating the Windows look and feel.”
Pocket PC 2002 makes its
appearance at an uncertain time in the handheld space. Long-time market leader
Palm Inc. (www.palm.com ) has struggled of
late, and some observers have said that it’s lost its momentum; principal Palm
challenger Handspring (www.handspring.com
) -– which also leverages the Palm OS –- has enjoyed great success in the
consumer space but has been unable to penetrate enterprise accounts with its
handheld devices; and market research firm Int’l Data Corp. has twice revised
its 2001 revenue projections for the world-wide handheld market. “Handheld
devices have proved they are not immune to the economic slowdown," noted
Kevin Burden, manager of the smart handheld devices research program with IDC (www.idc.com ), in the aftermath of his company’s
first revenue revision in June.
Nevertheless, analysts anticipate that the Pocket PC will likely
fare very well -– especially against a weakened Palm. “The corporate market is
slowly swinging toward devices running Microsoft's Windows CE operating system,
due to its smoother functioning with Outlook and Office applications and
stronger support for wireless communications capabilities,” wrote Gartner Group
(www.gartner.com ) analysts Todd Kort and
Ken Dulaney in a May research brief.
According to Rob Enderle, a
research fellow with the Giga Information Group (www.gigaweb.com ), the single greatest advantage
that Microsoft enjoys with respect to Palm and its other competitors in the
handheld space is hardware independence, which, he says, lets it concentrate
almost exclusively on improving the quality of its operating system.
“They were able to
drive a general spec and let the hardware vendors compete on the issue of the
best design,” he comments. “So here Microsoft’s able to focus on addressing the
shortcomings of their platform to the point where, technically, they’ve clearly
outstripped Palm, because their OS is a current generation OS, but Palm’s is
representative of an older generation.”
Stephen Swoyer is a Nashville, TN-based freelance journalist who writes about technology.