Pocket PC 2002 is Microsoft's second version of the operating system for handhelds that, according to the company, incorporates the top requests for enhancements from business users.
Among the features new to Pocket PC 2002 are handwriting recognition, the ability to "beam" information to devices running either Pocket PC or Palm's competing operating system and support for virtual private networks (VPN).
HP was the only major vendor to reveal details regarding handhelds that will use the new operating system before the Pocket PC 2002 launch. It unveiled its new Jornada 560 handheld series at the Demomobile conference last month. The new Jornadas have more memory, a longer battery life and weigh less than previous models. Each handheld in the Jornada 560 series weighs 6oz and has removable batteries lasting up to 14 hours, HP said.
The Jornada 565, with 32Mbytes of RAM, will cost $599 (£406), while the Jornada 568, with 64Mbytes of RAM, will be priced at $649 (£439).
One analyst said that the new Jornadas have an advantage over the competition. "HP has removable battery packs and fairly long-life batteries," said Todd Kort, principal analyst with Gartner. "That will appeal to the vertical markets that have been needing longer battery life."
Compaq, Symbol, Casio and Toshiba are among the other vendors rolling out devices. All share the Pocket PC 2002 operating system, and Intel's 206MHz StrongARM processor.
Compaq is offering the iPaq Pocket PC H3700 and H3800 series, both of which feature 64Mbytes of RAM. The H3700 is largely an upgrade from the H3600 for the new operating system. The H3800, however, is completely new, and features an SD (secure digital) memory card slot. Both versions have a TFT (thin-film transistor) screen capable of more than 65,000 colours, and increased battery life over earlier versions, the company said in a statement.
The iPaq also includes IBM's ViaVoice Mobility Suite, which allows voice commands for the calendar, contacts and inbox features.
The iPaq H3700 is now available in the US for $499, and the H3800 series will be available in November. The H3850 and H3835 without integrated Bluetooth wireless capabilities will cost $599, while the H3870 with integrated Bluetooth will cost $649.
"The Bluetooth feature will probably be most appealing in the European market, where they might be able to integrate that into the mobile phones that use Bluetooth," Kort said.
Symbol unveiled colour versions of two of its existing devices running the Pocket PC operating system. The PPT 2800 and PDT 8100 both now have colour screens and run Pocket PC 2002. They also feature built-in bar code scanning.
The two devices, both available now, have 32Mbytes of RAM each, and are rugged systems, designed to withstand harsh environments and multiple drops to concrete from heights up to 4ft. The PPT 2800 is a pen-based handheld while the PDT 8100 has both a stylus and a keyboard. The colour PPT 2800 starts at $1,795, and the colour PDT 8100 is priced from $2,495.
Casio unveiled the Cassiopeia E-200, with a 3.5in colour TFT display. The E-200, which has 64Mbytes of RAM, has slots for CompactFlash and SD cards as well as an optional PC Card unit. The E-200, which will be available in the US from early November, will be priced at around $599, Casio said.
But Casio may have trouble gaining acceptance for its Pocket PC device, Gartner's Kort said. "Casio is perceived as more of a consumer-oriented company and they're playing in an enterprise market," he said. Another problem for Casio may be that it lacks the mobile infrastructure of HP, Compaq or Toshiba, all of whom have notebooks on the market.
Toshiba has lifted the lid on its own PDA. The Toshiba Pocket PC e570 has an SD slot as well as a CompactFlash slot - which can be used for a variety of add-on devices including a modem or a global positioning system (GPS) device - built in. The e570 has 64Mbytes of RAM, weighs 6.3oz and has a battery life of up to eight hours. The e570 will be available in the US in November for $569.
"Toshiba has the dual-slot architecture, that's something almost all of the vendors need to be thinking about moving to," Kort said. "It allows you to be wireless and have a storage device at the same time," he said. But, the Toshiba may be harder to find this year than other brands. "Toshiba won't really get theirs out in volume until the first quarter of next year," Kort said.