Bluetooth to free iPaq from PDA limitations

TORONTO — Compaq will add Bluetooth functionality to its next generation of iPaq personal digital assistants (PDAs).

During a briefing Tuesday Compaq Canada Corp. executives demonstrated how iPaqs can be synched to notebooks and desktops, making traditional synching via a cradle unnecessary.

The iPaq H3800 series will have Bluetooth integrated into the form factor and older model PDAs can be Bluetooth-enabled via a Bluetooth wireless pack with a Compact Flash (CF) slot. “We’re moving beyond organizers to multi-function devices,” said Compaq Canada’s PC product manager, Ken Price.

Bluetooth technology is effective on a 10-metre radius with roughly 1 mbps transfer speeds. Synching is available “as if it were cable tethered,” said Price. “It becomes a kind of simple technology.”

Short range data transmissions have become the killer application for Bluetooth technology, according to Giga Information Group analyst Ken Smiley. “You will not see Bluetooth being the next networking protocol for wireless. That’s pretty much been established as 802.11,” he said. “What you will see Bluetooth as a substitute for is (for) cradles or headsets or some other type of device that would normally be connected via some sort of cable.”

However, the one obvious drawback to cradle-free synching, noted Smiley, is that you won’t be able to recharge the battery as you synch.

Bluetooth shows promise as a communications medium, said Smiley, but he doesn’t expect the market to be flooded with Bluetooth printers, for example. The only advantage of Bluetooth over infrared technology in that instance if you wouldn’t have to point the PDA directly at the printer in order to make a connection, and infrared hasn’t made any real market inroads, he said.

And forget about Bluetooth consumer products for now. The technology is still in its infancy and still very expensive, said Smiley. “We really haven’t seen anybody with a sound business plan for positive return on investments like that yet.”

A possible use for a Bluetooth iPaq is connecting it to a cell phone (provided it’s also Bluetooth-enabled). Once the devices are synched, the phone can act as an Internet gateway and transmit data to the PDA. Speeds should approximate a 56K modem, according to John Nagelmakers, a technical consultant for Compaq Canada’s professional services division.

Compaq is currently developing a cell phone pack which can clip onto the back of an iPaq. “Ipaq is bringing telephony integration to take advantage of advanced networks from carriers,” said Price, referencing the recent availability of GPRS networks. The iPaq phones should be available next year, he said, and will be in pilot mode in the first quarter of 2002. Before cell phone products can be marketed, Compaq has “to work with carriers to make sure it’s a viable service.”

By 2004-2005, Sone and Associates analyst Brian Platts anticipates every portable device will have phone functionality. Manufacturers are already rushing to get devices out as carriers make networks become available. “The various form factors are only going to be limited by the designers’ imaginations and what the market’s looking for,” said Platts, noting the appearance of a Palm OS-powered Kyocera Smartphone and the Treo Communicator from PDA manufacturer Handpsring.

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