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Tue, Mar 19, 2002 - Page 21 News List

Tech firms prepare new handheld

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

A new hybrid cellphone and handheld computer, expected from Verizon Wireless in late spring, will be the first phone powered by an operating system from Microsoft to be offered in the US by telecom-munications companies.

Made by Audiovox and called the Thera, it features components and software by the biggest names in personal computers. The Thera runs on a 206MHz processor by Intel. The Pocket PC operating system, a smaller version of Windows for gadgets, powers the device, which also has features like Word and the Windows Media Player.

Audiovox has included Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser, Outlook and instant-messaging programs for surfing the Web or sending messages. Audiovox licensed Sierra Wireless software for dialing and connecting to the network.

The 200g device, which has many of the functions of a PC, will wear a similar price tag, about US$800. The cost will largely limit the device's popularity to executives, corporate managers and some adventurous consumers, said Alex Slawsby, an analyst with International Data Corp.

The companies plan to show off the Thera on Monday at a trade show in Orlando, Florida. Microsoft also intends to announce that two other carriers, VoiceStream Wireless and Cingular Wireless, will sell phones using its operating systems.

VoiceStream will sell a smart phone using Pocket PC 2002. The companies expect the phone, made by High Tech Computer, to reach stores in the summer.

Cingular, however, is to announce that it will start selling a so-called smart phone running an as-yet-unreleased operating system from Microsoft, called Smartphone 2002, later this year.

While the gadgets from Verizon and VoiceStream are built like a hand-held computer that can make calls, Cingular's device, made by Sendo, will look more like a cell phone that will borrow some features from palmtops. The Sendo phone will offer a touch pad and a thumb dial, instead of a stylus, for navigating and entering information.

Sharply cutting prices and tossing in free extras, personal-computer makers eked out better-than-expected profits during the holidays by luring customers into upgrading or buying second PCs for their homes.

But a survey to be released Monday suggests that the effusive marketing efforts have largely missed the 40 million households in the US that are standing fast against the PC wave. Thirty-nine percent of households do not own a PC, statistically the same as in the previous year, according to the survey, taken in January by Odyssey, a market research firm.

Among Odyssey's findings, perhaps the most surprising is the reason that most holdouts gave for not having a computer at home. Instead of citing price or technological ignorance, more respondents said they just had no compelling reasons to own PCs.

Sean Baenen, a managing director at Odyssey, said the results showed a basic flaw in the marketing strategies of PC manufacturers. While cutting the cost of a computer and including new features, like a DVD or CD burner, may entice some buyers, he said, 40 million households are not convinced that surfing the Internet, calculating finances or being able to do word processing is worth the investment.

"All the data," Baenen said, "points to the fact that PC manu-facturers have been trying to solve problems that most consumers don't have -- price, and more technology for the price."

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