Hewlett-Packard is introducing its first iPaq handheld that can easily switch between traditional cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
The h6315, which was co-developed with T-Mobile, operates on a traditional cellular network but can automatically hop over onto a faster Wi-Fi connection when one is available. The device also has a built-in camera and a detachable keyboard and can also act as a cell phone using the GSM cellular network.
"This is the ultimate device," said Scott Ballantyne, vice president of business services marketing for T-Mobile USA. "This will play and store MP3s. It takes pictures."
To allow the device to switch networks, T-Mobile had to adjust its network to let devices store a second Internet Protocol connection. Microsoft also had to make changes to its Windows Mobile operating system.
In addition to its Wi-Fi and GPRS data abilities, the h6315 also has short-range Bluetooth wireless for connecting to detached earpieces and other accessories. HP said it will ship versions both with and without the camera feature, as some business prefer to give workers devices that don't have the ability to take pictures.
HP plans to sell the 6315 model exclusively with T-Mobile in North America, although HP will also sell a version of the device in Europe and Asia that can be used with other carriers' networks.
The company said it expects to sell hundreds of thousands of the devices worldwide in the first year. The T-Mobile version will sell for $499 with a 1-year service agreement and is expected to be available Aug. 26 from HP and from T-Mobile and those who sell its products.
T-Mobile's embrace of Wi-Fi devices makes sense, as the company also has one of the largest commercial Wi-Fi hot spot networks in the world in addition to its cellular network. T-Mobile and Japan's NTT DoCoMo, also a cell phone and Wi-Fi hot spot operator and have been keen on such devices, but support from other carriers has been less than enthusiastic.
The Nokia 9500, a foldable phone with a full QWERTY keyboard and oversize horizontal screen, is the only other handheld with the same hat trick of wireless connections. Nokia says the phone will be available in Europe by the fourth quarter.
Among the many challenges with such devices is how to ensure customers are billed properly as devices move between different types of networks, analysts say.
Despite the challenges, such hybrid devices do provide a tantalizing view into the future. Armed with the appropriate software, such gadgets could eventually use a home's Wi-Fi access point to make phone calls using the Internet, technology known as voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP.
Wi-Fi phone proponents say it makes sense to combine Wi-Fi with traditional cellular abilities. Wi-Fi is fast, has a 300-foot range and can be used for downloading large amounts of information. Meanwhile, cellular networks stretch for hundreds of miles but can usually only manage download speeds of about 50 kilobits per second to 500kbps.
In addition to the wireless product, HP is also introducing three other handheld lines--one high-end line aimed at businesses and two lines that are more consumer oriented.
The iPaq 4700 features HP ProtectTools security software, a 4-inch VGA screen and a 624MHz Intel processor. It also has a touch pad controller to move the cursor around the screen--a departure from the stylus-based navigation that has characterized most other Pocket PC-based handhelds. The device also offers Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless capability.
Meanwhile, the consumer-oriented rx3715 is aimed at consumers, allowing people to move music and other media files from a PC throughout a networked house using the iPaq as the controller. The $499 device also has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless abilities, a 1.2 megapixel digital camera, universal remote abilities and new software for printing and sharing digital pictures. The device is slated to be available this fall.
The rz1700 series, also scheduled to be available in the fall, starts at $279 and comes with HP Image Zone software for creating slide shows and viewing photos.