Compaq fills its Pocket PC with a lot of features

Microsoft’s foray into palm-sized personal computing saw the software giant call on a series of companies to provide the hardware, and Compaq Canada Inc. was one of the OEMs who answered the call.

Compaq responded with the iPAQ Pocket PC – a slim, handheld PC which features modular slide-on expansion packs that enable the unit to accommodate standard PC cards, compact flash cards or gain wireless access to the Internet.

Configurable and boasting a full colour screen measuring about two and a quarter inches by three inches, the iPAQ features a 206MHz Intel StrongARM 32-bit reduced instruction set computing processor and 32MB of standard memory. In addition to holding thousands of contact names and numbers, iPAQ can send and receive e-mails with attachments as well as store and play MP3s or other Web-based audio files.

The sleek palm unit offers Pocket PC applications such as Pocket Word, Pocket Excel, Outlook, Internet Explorer, Reader and Windows Media Player. Compaq also added QStart, QMenu and QUtilities to provide a host of diagnostic and system management tools for the portable computer.

“iPAQ takes full advantage of the Microsoft operating system,” said Peter McNeill, product manager for Compaq Canada. “We clearly feel our product is superior to any other palm-PC that’s been put out…this is not just a business device, it’s also a personal device…our target audience is both commercial and retail – individuals as well as IT professionals.”

According to International Data Corp. (IDC), the worldwide market for handheld devices is predicted to grow from 5.4 million units in 1999 to 18.9 million units by 2003. It’s a market both Compaq and Microsoft are hoping to take firm hold of and one of the Pocket PC features they think will help their cause is the Windows CE 3.0 pull-down menus have been replaced with a bottom pull-up menu. This means that the user’s hand won’t block the menu.

The colour, thin, film transistor screen is able to display thousands of colours equivalent to those found on most notebook computers. An ambient light sensor is designed to automatically adjust the display by detecting the amount and intensity of light of the users’ surroundings.

The iPAQ can be expanded to fit various needs.

“Instead of saying ‘Here’s our version (of the product),’ we’re providing a basic unit and allowing customers to use it however they want,” McNeill said. “Whether you want to add a flashcard jacket, a boom box for MP3 playback, or a digital camera…it’s our expandability (that defines iPAQ from the competition).”

Compaq will offer two types of optional expansion packs for the iPAQ which have specific add-on features. The PC Card Expansion Pack enables wireless connection to e-mail, the Web or a corporate network when used with a circuit data/packet data card or an IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN PC Card. The CompactFlash Expansion Pack allows the user to plug in a variety of cards, such as storage, local area network connectivity and other third-party options such as a modem or barcode scanner. In addition, cosmetic style-pack covers are available to protect the unit.

“I’m impressed,” said George Bulat, an analyst with IDC Canada in Toronto. “It’s a more robust product with more applications. This product is targeting a specific type of customer and it’s a smart move. They’re not overselling the product in terms of its capability or functionality.”

More expansion packs are under development, including a global positioning system that will transform the iPAQ into a navigator as well as a combination Bluetooth/CompactFlash expansion pack for simultaneous multi-device connectivity and storage expansion.

“They’ve been a player in the market for the last three years and they’ve had some inconsistency throughout. They go through peaks and valleys,” said Dave Armitage, market analyst with Evans Research Corp. in Toronto.

He likes what he sees in the new iPAQ. “It has multimedia capabilities and it’s a much sexier product than in the past, so there’s more potential in the sense of appealing to the consumer. They’ll be facing some real competition in the market from Hewlett-Packard and Casio. But if you look at the other products on the market it’s hard to compare, as the features differ.”

The Compaq iPAQ Pocket PC has a starting price of $699 and modular expansion packs retail from $59 for the CompactFlash expansion pack to $219 for the PC Card. The standard model features a USB docking cradle for connection to a desktop or portable PC, an extra stylus, a basic style pack and a black imitation leather slipcase.

Compaq Canada in Richmond Hill, Ont., is at (905) 707-1715.