HP’s smart phone efforts heat up

Building on the success of a PDA (personal digital assistant) launched last year that offered mobile phone and Wi-Fi functions, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) plans to offer a number of new devices to its business customers throughout 2005 and 2006, company executives said Wednesday.

The Palo Alto, California, company will demonstrate a second PDA that can be used as a mobile phone – which the company bills as a smart phone – later this month at the 3GSM World Conference in Cannes, said Ted Clark, senior vice president and general manager of HP’s Mobile Computing Business Unit, during a press conference at the Fairmont Hotel in San Jose, California.

The HP iPaq Mobile Messenger will work with EDGE (Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution) networks and come with built-in GPS (global positioning system) location technology and an integrated keyboard. It will be available in the second quarter of this year, but pricing and carriers have yet to be determined, said Rick Roesler, vice president for handhelds in the Mobile Computing Business Unit, in an interview following the press conference.

HP unveiled several new notebooks, as well as its smart phone plans, during an event for press and analysts dedicated to mobile technologies.

Smart phones are viewed as the next frontier for handheld devices. Shipments of stand-alone personal digital assistants (PDAs) have fallen steadily over the last few years, as users have realized their mobile phones work just as well as those PDAs for storing contact information or calendar appointments. In 2004, shipments decreased by 13 percent to 9.2 million units, down from 10.6 million units shipped during 2003, IDC reported Wednesday.

While relatively new on the mobile device market, smart phones are growing in sales at rates that make PDA vendors such as HP and PalmOne Inc. take notice. PalmOne’s Treo 600 and 650 smart phones have done very well among consumers, but HP has a different customer in mind for its first smart phones, Roesler said.

The HP iPaq h6315 was introduced in July of last year with the ability to make voice calls and access the Internet over GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Service) networks as well as through wireless LANs based on the IEEE 802.11b standard.

Enterprise customers were the primary target for the h6315, and future HP smart phones will also be designed with the mobile professional in mind, Roesler said. The company has no plans at this time to target the consumer smart phone market, dominated by companies such as Nokia Corp., but some consumers might choose to purchase the devices on their own, he said.

HP’s expertise in selling to corporate accounts gives it a better chance than a company such as Nokia or wireless carriers such as T-Mobile or Cingular of introducing smart phones into enterprises, said Rob Enderle, principal analyst with the Enderle Group in San Jose, during a panel discussion at HP’s mobility event. The company can also take some of the security features from its other iPaqs and incorporate them into its smart phones, he said. Most other smart phone companies don’t offer those security features, he said.

HP doesn’t plan to give up on the traditional PDA market just yet, Roesler said. The company sells five different categories of iPaqs right now, with one of those categories dedicated to smart phones. Its plans are still evolving, but HP will probably increase the number of smart phone categories while keeping one or two types of traditional PDAs, he said.

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