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April 12, 2005

HP readies GPS-enabled PDA phone, mulls push email from Good

Hewlett-Packard will launch its telephony-enabled iPAQ 6500 in June with the Navigator product from Dutch ISV TomTom and a GPS receiver "straight out of the box," and is considering whether to bundle Good Technology's push email software on the handset.

By CBR Staff Writer

The 6500 will be the second iPAQ with mobile phone capabilities, in addition to Bluetooth personal area networking and WLAN connectivity. The first was the 6340, launched in late 2004. The company plans GSM/GPRS and CDMA connectivity, the 6500 marking HP’s first serious attempt to woo European mobile operators as a route to market. It already has a US market alliance with T-Mobile USA, but while the German group is a potential customer in the Old Continent, there are also other major carriers in its sights.

We’ll target operators that cover Europe, as well as local and regional players, said Tim Schelling, director of category management in UK and Ireland for the Palo Alto, California-based vendors IPSG division, comprising the printer and personal computing devices businesses. Vodafone, of whom we are a close partner, will be interested in this device, he predicted. The 6500 is also the first iPAQ with built-in rather than clip-on Qwerty keyboard, in addition to the touch-screen one supported in the OS.

Part of HP’s ambitions with the 6500 is clearly to be a competitor to, if not killer of, the BackBerry, moving into the space presently dominated by Canada’s Research In Motion with its proprietary hard- and software-based services. David Wright, VP of IPSG for UK and Ireland, acknowledged that the company’s general direction in the coming months is to deliver simple messaging plus value-added services for verticals, with SFA and GPS, for instance.

TomTom Navigator is thus guaranteed a place on the 6500, but the jury is still out, according to Schelling, as to whether Good’s push email technology should ship as default the new device. It’s not yet finalized, he said. There may be some reluctance on HP’s part to deal with Good here when Microsoft itself is promising push email capabilities for Pocket PC later this year.

Still, Good has been in the sector for some years, and HP may prefer to go with it for what Schelling called a true push email experience on the 6500 from Day 1, rather than wait for Microsoft to deliver similar functionality later in the year.

HP is at pains to differentiate the 6500 from a smart phone, inn that the latter is a phone-centric device with a data capability whereas the former is a data-centric device with telephony. A fine distinction in practical times, perhaps, but HP argues that iPAQs deal comfortably with applications such as Excel and PowerPoint, where smart phones still struggle.

Doubtless it will also want to maintain that difference in pricing: the 6340 has a recommended retail price of around $650, and the new PDA phone is unlikely to be cheaper, though clearly operator subsidies may affect the end price to the consumer.

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