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December 3, 1991

PEEK’s THRIVING HUSKY HAS A HANDHELD FOR (TEMPORARILY) ONE-HANDED PEOPLE

By CBR Staff Writer

Husky Computers Ltd, Peek Plc-owned master of rugged handheld computers, has come out with a niche version of its already tightly-focussed portable system, aimed specifically at data collection applications such as meter reading, service engineering and surveying. The FS/2, claims managing director Andrew Faulkner, can be held and operated in one hand, a capability necessary for example if an engineer is up a telegraph pole. And, to give the company its due, the thing is held very comfortably in one hand – it measures 9.3 by 5 by 1.7, becoming narrower towards the centre, rather like a bone, for the hand to grip. It’s not heavy either, unlike Husky’s flagship Hunter 16 landscape handheld computer, which though reasonably impressive at 2.6 lb, still feels like a couple of bags of sugar, a bult it would be hard to balance from a precarious position up a telegraph pole, but then the Hunter 16 is aimed at more down to earth field work. The new FS/2 weighs a mere 26 oz. The backlit liquid crystal display is small, but adequate at eight lines of 40 characters, with 240 by 64 resolution, and the programmable keyboard features separate alpha (ABC) and numeric panels, for ease of figure or letter entry. As it isn’t intended for long text, a QWERTY keyboard would have been superfluous.

Scoffing at PCradio

Based on an NEC V25+ microprocessor running at 8MHz, the system offers between 512Kb and 4Mb of static RAM, and runs MS-DOS 3.3. Husky prides itself on the effort it puts into extending battery life, and the FS/2, as with the Hunter 16, boasts around 30 hours – Faulkner notes that this will support an average week in operation. All stops were pulled out to achieve this – the processor, for example, is turned off automatically between keystrokes to save on power. Scoffing at IBM Corp’s new PCradio handheld system, which claims to be rugged, yet lets in the rain if turned upside down, Faulkner emphasises that when Husky says rugged it means rugged. You can’t swim under water with it, but you can walk through clouds of dust, drop it in a sandpit, let it slip accidentally into a tank of pirahnas, take it to the North Pole or subject it to electric shock treatment, and no harm will come to it, or more importantly to all of that painstakingly-obtained data.

By Sue Norris

At the end of the day, to offload and download data to and from local or remote computers while simultaneously recharging the battery, the FS/2 is simply mounted onto a portable rack system; this provides multiple unit communications through a single port. Husky, which calls itself a systems integrator, offers in addition to applications software, compatible system accessories such as a membrane keyboard, integral modem, external disk drive, serial RAM cartridge and bar-code readers. The system is available now in limited quantity, for production in the first quarter next year. Faulkner says Husky has a six-month sales cycle, whereby it takes the order in and produces the custom software and so on, for delivery six months later. The entry-level model costs UKP1,250, the 4Mb model UKP2,650. Husky makes 75% of its sales direct, the rest via value-added resellers. No firm orders yet, though the company is banking on a 30,000-unit order from a telephone engineer company. Husky makes all its products itself in Coventry, where the company is headquartered. With 250 staff worldwide, it has wholly-owned subsidiaries in Florida, Paris, Cologne and in Holland. Some 57% of the company’s revenues, which in turn make up 20% of Peek’s UKP70m annual turnover, come from overseas – mainly Europe and North America. Husky claims to have an installed base of some 60,000 systems across all its handhelds: the Hunter 16 landscape alpha-numeric MS-DOS system with 8Mb RAM, the Hunter 2 CP/M-compatible and the Husky Wolf MS-DOS system specifically for military applications. Hawk is Husky’s older, non-rugged computer – it continues to sell this, as a systems integrator, but doesn’t like getting so close to what the Japanese are doing. And why should it, when Husky has run away with its

chosen markets, for example owning 20% of the US market for utility meter reading? Faulkner reckons that the out-of-office computing market will be UKP1,000m in 1995, and growing at 25% annually.

Pen hype

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Will Husky move to an Intel processor or opt for RISC? We have a team of engineers in Coventry and we keep them busy, says Faulkner, put it that way, though he does add that Husky is unlikely to do much with RISC. Before we move to a higher-performance processor, he says, we have to consider whether memory, battery life and data security will suffer. Faulkner is amused by the hype surrounding pen computing, which he thinks is conceptually very pretty, but he’s waiting for the handwriting recognition technology to mature, for the two operating systems to battle it out and for someone to discover a real market for the idea before he’ll consider it for Husky. On Peek’s parental contribution (Peek bought Husky from Addison Communications Plc in 1987), Faulkner says Husky is allowed to operate autonomously, while benefitting from the financial credibility associated with belonging to a larger group; Husky has not been affected by any of the recent cost-cutting at Peek.

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