Microsoft this week unveiled the third generation of its Windows CE-based Handheld PC devices, which will join PocketPCs in stores this fall. The company says that the new devices, bundled under the moniker Handheld PC 2000 (HPC2K), correct problems with the previous versions, while adding those features that customers have been asking for. Handheld PCs were first introduced at the same November 1996 rollout that saw the introduction of the Windows CE operating system, but the devices have long suffered at the hands of the Palm OS and sub-notebook computers, which fell in price dramatically over the same time period. Handheld PCs typically feature clamshell designs with a half-sized for full-sized VGA screen and a laptop-like keyboard. After the initial launch, Microsoft tried adding color devices and a second-generation version dubbed in late 1998 with larger screens and Windows CE 2.0; both flopped.
"We learned a lot \[with the previous generation HPC\]," says Microsoft marketing manager Doug Dedo. "Some of the approaches we took were not appropriate for this device."
The new HPC2K devices will be sold by companies such as Hewlett-Packard, NEC, and Sharp Electronics, and they will target vertical markets--such as the medical field--where the cost and fragility of laptops is prohibitive. In that sense, this new crop of CE devices will not be appropriate for consumers, who have embraced the smaller and simpler Palm OS devices. For the business markets that need such devices, however, the HPC2K could be an interesting alternative. The new software features a remote interface for connecting to and controlling desktop machines, for example, offering up interesting new possibilities. One thing that hasn't changed, however, is the price: Handheld PC 2000 devices will cost $800 to $1000 when they debut in about two weeks.
Other new features of HPC2K include a version of Pocket Internet Explorer that is roughly equivalent with the Windows version of IE 4.0, a Windows Media Player application that can playback MP3 and WMA files, and a version of SQL Server 2000 that is expected to debut later this year