You rang?

Compaq's iPaq H3870 performs Pocket PC 2002 functions and has a Bluetooth transmitter. It's priced at $649.

Research in Motion's BlackBerry 5180 adds a GSM phone to its e-mail, pager and PDA functions. It's priced at $499.

Handsping's Treo 180 includes a PDA, GSM/GPRS phone and wireless e-mail and Web browsing. It's priced at $399 with service activation.

Handheld makers fit wireless phones into PDA-sized devices

If you spend your entire workday at your desk, stop reading this now. You probably don't need a handheld device, let alone one in the multifunction category.

But for those of us who spend hours in meetings or on the road, a personal digital assistant or hybrid device that keeps us in touch with the home office is likely a necessity.

[IMGCAP(1)]And because of two converging trends'the growth of portable technology and the availability of wireless access'you can pack quite a bit of power in a package that fits in your palm, clips to your belt or tucks into your purse.

Fans of the Palm operating system have two new models this year to choose from, depending on whether telephony is important to them.

The first is Palm's i705, a follow-on to the Palm VIIx that bundles a wireless data modem into a handheld with a monochrome screen. The unit can handle e-mail, instant messaging and a form of Web browsing called clipping.

The second is Handspring Inc.'s Treo 180, the brainchild of Palm creator Jeff Hawkins, who now helms Handspring's line. Blending a PDA with a phone that uses the Global System for Mobile Communications and General Packet Radio Service protocols, the Treo 180 offers e-mail, Web surfing and voice telephony.

Although at the moment designed for GSM networks, Handspring is working with AirPrime Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., to develop a Code Division Multiple Access model that can function on networks such as Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless, among other carriers.

Research in Motion Ltd., whose BlackBerry pager/e-mail/browser devices are favored by many executives, is planning a larger version of the BlackBerry that will include a GSM phone.

Still another option, though also limited to GSM networks, is Compaq's add-on pack for its popular iPAQ handhelds. Scheduled for release later this year, the device will add voice and data communications to iPAQ's Pocket PC software and applications. It also can be removed and replaced with other add-ons for IEEE 802.11b or Bluetooth communications.

Whither Microsoft?

The unknown factor so far in all of this is Microsoft Corp. and its Pocket PC platform. Even though several makers overseas'primarily in Europe and Asia'have launched PDA-phone-data units, none have yet reached the United States. Hewlett-Packard Co., which brought its Jornada 928 to Europe in February, reportedly is planning a U.S. launch for the second half of this year.

[IMGCAP(2)]Multifunction devices have been in demand for a while in the government, said Doug Dedo, a group product manager at Microsoft.

Microsoft also plans to unveil a different kind of multifunction device this year, the SmartPhone'not to be confused with a similarly named Palm OS product from Kyocera Wireless Corp.'which will have a stripped-down version of the already minimalist Pocket Outlook and be centered more on telephony than data.

Senior executives or sales representatives tend to lean toward a smart phone, because voice is its primary function, Dedo said. But IT or field service personnel who might be connecting to larger applications probably prefer a Pocket PC for its larger screen, he said.

Choosing the right handheld for your job is important, Dedo said, because no single wireless option meets every need of every user.

'Even today, and for that matter for the foreseeable future, there's no one option that's going to work wherever you are,' he said. 'Wireless airwaves don't flow everywhere. Heavily shielded buildings are one example.' Other examples include hospitals and airplanes, where cell phone use is not allowed because electronic emissions might interfere with equipment.

Managers thinking about buying handhelds should consider how easily they can customize a device. For Pocket PC devices, that means using Microsoft Visual Tools.

'Because you can't always be connected, there's a need to deploy applications that work well when you're connected or in standalone mode,' he said. 'Those applications would require some unique tools and development technologies.'

Research in Motion also has developed a BlackBerry model with a built-in phone, the 5180.

Secure communications

Mark Guibert, vice president of brand management, said the company managed to include the phone components without increasing the weight or size of the device.

He also said that using the Triple Data Encryption Standard helped to secure communications. 'The information sitting behind the firewall, before it leaves the server, is encrypted with Triple DES,' he said. 'There's no gap, and the message is decrypted at the handheld.' He noted that BlackBerry devices have received FIPS-140 certification from the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Research in Motion has added Java2 Micro Edition to its BlackBerry devices to let users customize applications.

'We decided to port BlackBerry to Java because it's an open platform and there are over 3 million Java developers out there today. What this allows is organizations and/or developers and systems integrators to take the product and customize their own back-end applications. Depending on the organization, they'll have their own in-house systems and personnel and programmers,' Guibert said.

The good news for users, however, is that regardless of the telecommunications platform, it will be possible to stay in touch with e-mail and corporate networks while in a meeting'or halfway around the world'using a device that won't break your back or your network. n

Mark A. Kellner is a free-lance technology writer in Marina Del Rey, Calif. E-mail him at

Stay Connected

Sign up for our newsletter.

I agree to this site's Privacy Policy.