By Eric Griffith
July 26, 2004
News on these products has leaked out for weeks, thanks to gadget blogs and other sites that watch for FCC approvals, and retailer site foul-ups that spill the beans. However, today they are official: Hewlett-Packard (HP) is launching a new line of iPAQ-branded personal digital assistants (PDAs) that will use several forms of wireless for communications and entertainment.
This lineup includes one of the first products to launch in the United States that will include both 802.11b-based Wi-Fi and cellular support in one. The HP iPAQ h6315 — launched in partnership with T-Mobile (a division of Deutsche Telekom) — will use GSM for global voice support, GPRS for long-range wireless data, Wi-Fi for data on local area networks (LANs), plus Bluetooth for supporting personal area communications such as a wireless voice headset.
“This is a unique offering, and a first for HP,” says John Dayan, HP’s senior director of handheld and wireless business. “We’ve partnered with T-Mobile to bring this to market, and even before, to come up with the design and branding.”
T-Mobile is a longtime cellular phone carrier, and its Wi-Fi public hotspot business currently boasts the largest network in the United States. According to Todd Achilles, director for handset product management for T-Mobile, its European sister companies are “on a tear deploying hotspots” and he expects they’ll have 10,000 hotspot locations on both continents by the end of the year. T-Mobile runs hotspots at Starbucks, Borders Books and Music, FedEx Kinkos, and other locations.
The h6315 will run the smartphone edition of the Windows Mobile 2003 operating system, which means users can’t go into landscape format like other new Pocket PC products. Dayan says it will ship in the box with a case and with a thumb keyboard that can be attached for easier dialing and text messaging. It will also have an integrated digital camera capable of VGA-quality shots.
The operating system only allows one wireless data connection at a time, but Achilles says the switchover is seamless. For example, if a Web page is open over the GPRS link and the user walks into a hotspot, the unit will associate with the access point (if allowed) and store an IP address in standby. The next time it needs to access the Internet, such as when a link is clicked, the h6315 will use whatever connection is faster (usually the Wi-Fi).
Using GSM for voice while surfing or sending data at the same time is supported, however. T-Mobile is expecting this product to boost the number of customers who sign up for both, saying one third of its hotspot users already have a T-Mobile voice account now.
The h6315 doesn’t have any voice over IP component. Achilles says T-Mobile sees “that as an opportunity down the line.” Third party VoIP software like Skype should run on it.
The iPAQ h6315 won’t ship until August, when it will be available direct from HP, T-Mobile, and various retailers. It will sell for $599 without activation, or $499 (minus a rebate) with activation of T-Mobile’s plan for cellular and hotspot service.
The h6315 is exclusive for T-Mobile users on the voice and GPRS side, though the Wi-Fi connectivity will work with any hotspot, home network, or corporate network where the user is allowed access.
Achilles says, “Devices like this, and the next generation to come in 2005, are really abstracting the network level away from the user. It’s not just the calls, but also the billing, signing for services — everything else associated with that. There’s great things coming.”
Other products have been announced overseas that combine cellular and Wi-Fi, though most won’t allow simultaneous use. Companies like Motorola are expected to make some significant announcements in this area later this year.
Dayan calls the h6315 the “marquee product,” but it’s not alone in launching this week. HP is also launching the $650 iPAQ hx4700 as its “power performance series” — it includes a four-inch TFT display with VGA (640×480) resolution, and can support landscape mode. It will also include Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
HP is calling the rx3000 series “Mobile Media Companions” as they’re designed to capture and share digital media such as music, videos and still photos. Using integrated Wi-Fi, the units can stream media from a source like a home PC. The rx3715 comes with extra memory and goes for $499. The less expensive (with less memory) rx3115 will be out in the fall.
In addition, a value product line includes the rz1710 for productivity, as well as the rz1715, which is a less expensive Mobile Media Companion with a different startup screen interface for faster access. Both are priced starting at $279. Neither support any native wireless features, but both have expansion slots to add it via third parties.