COMDEX : Vendor crafts handheld access to corporate apps

At the recent Comdex show, National Semiconductor Corp. showed a working prototype of a handheld computer that can access standard enterprise applications over more wireless infrastructures.

Roughly half the size of an 8.5-by-11-inch paper sheet, the Geode Extended Office (GXO) device was designed to incorporate Bluetooth and 802.11b wireless adapters. GXO can use a Bluetooth-equipped cell phone as a modem over cellular connections, while 802.11b can use wireless LANs at corporate offices or public access hotspots.

Using the client portion of Citrix Systems Inc.’s ICA protocol, the device displays the user’s complete server-based Microsoft Corp. Outlook email interface. The Citrix code lets a device display the output of Windows or Unix applications running on servers.

At Comdex, the vendors simulated an electronic interaction between two doctors, who used software from Linqware Inc.’s Collabrix to review an emergency room patient’s history and watch a video that showed a scan of the patient’s heart. Via the Citrix client software and the Citrix MetaFrame server, the doctors could access several server applications.

The handheld, officially a “concept device” instead of a product, is 6 by 7.2 inches by 1 inch thick. With batteries, the GXO is far from being a light-weight: It weighs 1 pound 9 ounces. But National Semiconductor and its partners, including CoCom International, which did the hardware engineering, and Studio Red, which created the aluminum exterior design, packed a lot into it:

*National’s Geode SC2200 processor, designed for handhelds.

*Full Windows XP Professional operating system.

*A 10G-byte Toshiba Corp. disk drive.

*Integrated high-end video graphics.

* 16-bit full stereo sound.

*6.3-inch, 1,024-by-768-pixel superfine TFT LDC display, with touchscreen (four times the size and five times the resolution of high-end PDAs).

* A built-in VGA video camera.

The goal of the project was to create an appliance-like handheld computer that could work smoothly over available wireless connections, with existing office and enterprise applications, says Jeff Water, director of National Semiconductor’s Consumer Access Business Unit.

As with all such devices, there are trade-offs. The GXO’s display, while crisp and brilliant, renders a full Outlook screen in very small text. An executive had to adjust the font size to make it readable. Its size and, especially, its weight mean that most users wouldn’t carry it around in their pockets for calendar and other personal information management tasks.

National Semiconductor is talking with device manufacturers that might license the GXO package of chips, system software, drivers and the like to create handheld products in the future.

National Semiconductor: