The Summer of Pocket PC

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Summer’s typically the slowest time in the handheld industry. Companies aren’t buying because many of its employees are on vacation, and consumers tend to wait for back-to-school and the holiday shopping season, both still months away. That’s why few handhelds are released in the summer. However, this year is shaping up to be a completely different story thanks to the pending release of Pocket PC 2003.

While the upcoming version of Microsoft’s mobile operating system won’t be a dramatic change from the current one, it will provide several key improvements. And it will prompt the release of several New Handhelds running the updated OS. Some of these will simply be new versions of current models, but several completely New Handhelds are also expected.

New Operating System

Though Microsoft hasn’t yet announced Pocket PC 2003, many developers have already had a look at it. It will offer some new features and clear up bugs found in the current version.

The new OS will allow developers to write applications that are optimized for the XScale processors that are at the heart of most handhelds. For end users, this means there will be new versions of applications that run even faster than they do now. However, these XScale optimized apps will run only under Pocket PC 2003. Of course, the new OS can run just about all software written for Pocket PC 2002.

Those with wireless handhelds should expect to see some useful new features, too. There will also be a Pocket PC Phone Edition 2003 for these models.

A new operating system always brings questions about whether current models will be able to upgrade. For those who are new to this, releasing a new handheld OS doesn’t work the same way as it does with desktops and laptops. The upgrade doesn’t come straight from Microsoft. Instead, Microsoft gives the new operating system to its licensees who customize it for their individual models and release it. It should be pointed out that these companies are not required to do this, though there is tremendous pressure from the users for them to do so..

According to unconfirmed reports, Pocket PC 2003 should fit in any handheld with 32 MB of ROM. It is not known if there will be a version for the HP iPAQ h1910, which has only 16 MB of ROM.

New Handhelds

Several factors are driving companies to release new handheld models — the obvious one being the release of Pocket PC 2003. In addition to the new version of the OS, there’s the ever-increasing technology bar. For instance, the standard for built-in memory on high-end devices is quickly moving towards 128 MB of RAM, and the top-of-the-line processor is now the the new PXA255 XScale chip from Intel.

iPAQ h2200 Series Hewlett Packard seems to be leading the pack toward the race to Pocket PC 2003. It’s already received permission from the FCC to release the iPAQ h2200 series, which is rumored to run the new OS. The h2200 looks to be almost as small as the h1910 but offers both a CompactFlash slot and a Secure Digital slot. Reportedly, there will be a version with 64 MB of RAM and another with 128 MB of RAM. Both will run 400 MHz XScale processors, which assumably will be the new PXA255 ones with the faster memory bus.

Just last week came the first rumors of an updated version of HP’s high-end models. It looks like the iPAQ h5500 series will offer the same dual wireless networking and biometric security functions as the current version, plus will have the PXA255 XScale processor runing at 400 MHz and 128 MB of RAM.

A dark horse in all this is Dell. Rumors have been circulating for months that it will release two new additions to its Axim line: the X3 and the X7. The Axim X3 is a low-priced (and low-featured) handheld with fewer features, while the Axim X7 will have more features and therefore cost more. It’s possible that Dell is waiting for the new version of Pocket PC to be available before releasing these models. A big announcement is expected from Dell tomorrow that is somehow related to Good Technologies, which makes wireless handhelds and applications.

It is unlikely there will be any new models coming from Toshiba this summer since it recently updated its high-end and low-end models.

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