ViewSonic joins Pocket PC family

ViewSonic Corp., best known for computer monitors and displays, is dipping its hands into the PDA (personal digital assistant) market with the release of a low-cost Pocket PC device due out in November, the company announced Monday.

With a price tag of US$299, The ViewSonic V35 Pocket PC is expected to the be the least expensive Pocket PC handheld on the market, said Ed Suwanjiandar, product manager for Microsoft Corp.’s mobile devices division. He called it a “sweet spot” price that would put it in better competition with devices that run operating systems from PalmSource Inc.

“We’re taking price away as a point where we’ve been disadvantaged,” he said.

Pocket PC devices typically are released with a price range of US$399 to US$799, depending on what features are included, such as wireless connectivity and display quality. The devices can fall in price as they near the end of their life cycle. However, within the year some analysts expect prices of new products to drop in line with ViewSonic’s.

“We know that there is going to be some price erosion as new products come out in the next year,” said Randy Giusto, vice-president of personal technology and services at International Data Corp (IDC).

The low price of the handheld is due mainly to decreasing component costs, Suwanjiandar said. Displays, flash memory and microprocessors, which account for the bulk of the hardware costs, have been coming down in price as the market grows, he said.

“Memory prices aren’t as wacky as they were in the past, and there’s more integration at the chipset level so the component count is going down,” said Giusto. “It’s just basic cost evolution.”

ViewSonic is one of 29 hardware makers to license Microsoft’s handheld operating system, according to the Redmond, Wash., software maker. While ViewSonic has made its business primarily on the sale of monitors and displays, the company has committed in the past year to releasing devices based on Microsoft’s Tablet PC operating system as well as its Mira software, which can be used to build PCs that sport wireless monitors.

ViewSonic’s Pocket PC device is expected to begin shipping Nov. 1, in time to target holiday shoppers. A week later, a number of Microsoft’s hardware partners are expected to launch Tablet PC devices.

The ViewSonic V35 Pocket PC will weigh in at 4.9 ounces, include a 300MHz XScale processor from Intel Corp., and boast 32MB of flash memory and 64MB of RAM. It will also feature a 3.5-inch, 240-by-320 pixel LCD (liquid crystal display), and support 64,000 colours. It will come with an SD (Secure Digital) expansion slot, speaker, headphone jack, microphone and a jog dial.

ViewSonic said it would ship a custom PowerPoint file viewer and a picture viewer application with the ViewSonic V35 Pocket PC.

The devices will be sold in North America initially, according to ViewSonic. They are expected to reach Asia by the end of the year, and Europe during the first quarter 2003, the company said.