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Sharp shock for Linux

Of the 11 million PDA sales, around 15% included wireless functionality, and that's set to double this next year. Of course the growth in wireless-enabled laptops, hotspots and general Wi-Fi hype is fueling interest, but perhaps something extra is happening. Laptops may be the weapon of choice for the executive road warrior, but are wireless PDAs pocket-able power for the pervasive proletariat?


First published on IT-Director.com

When you compare the markets for personal digital assistants to mobile phones, the numbers demonstrate some challenges. Last year smartphones overtook handheld PDAs with 13 million units sold versus 11 million for the handhelds. But are we comparing apples with pineapples? The total number of mobile phones sold last year was around 500 million units and they have always outstripped sales of PDAs. So let's redefine the PDA category.

Of the 11 million PDA sales, around 15% included wireless functionality, and that's set to double this next year. Of course the growth in wireless enabled laptops, hotspots and general Wi-Fi hype is fueling interest, but perhaps something extra is happening. Laptops may be the weapon of choice for the executive road warrior, but are wireless PDAs pocket-able power for the pervasive proletariat?

Access for the mobile masses brings other requirements. Make it manageable, make it usable, and make it robust. Make it a corporate worker, not a prima donna.

Sharp's latest member of the Zaurus family, the SL-6000, aims to do just that.

The PDA tech spec is pretty impressive. The SL-6000 is based on the Intel Xscale processor with 64Mbytes of memory, a mini qwerty keypad, 802.11b wireless connectivity and both Compact Flash and SD expansion cards slots. Sharp has again used a Linux operating system and Java environment.

However beyond the basic technology, this PDA is designed for users from all across the enterprise.

Firstly, manageability. Sharp has taken a leaf from the PalmOne approach and has worked with IBM to integrate the device with IBM middleware. This brings the benefits of secured access to enterprise applications, email and the Internet.

Next, usability. This has VGA resolution with 640 x 480 pixels on a larger 4" LCD screen. The display can be rotated from portrait to landscape at the click of a button, which makes it ideal for switching between personal information management style applications and corporate personal computer screen layouts. The keypad, and a microphone and speaker add further to the utility of the user interface.

Finally, the shock, or rather lack of it. This handheld been designed to take life's little knocks without the usual frailty of technology. This makes it a useful tool for field service engineers, doctors, and sales people who might want to concentrate more on their job and less on cosseting a particular gadget. This Zaurus has a durable case and will apparently cope with a 1-metre drop onto concrete. But don't try this at home. At least not with one you own, or one given by someone you want to continue to work for.

Sharp claims laptop-like performance and this highlights the interesting potential for this and other similarly equipped PDAs. The wider mobile worker audience. Laptops have many uses. Desktop replacement is a major market. Mobile workers in many industries will justify a laptop. Many will not. But they will need access to company applications, e-mail and perhaps surf the Internet.

If they can carry all that in their pocket, not worry about dropping it and read the data on a screen in daylight, they will be a happy pervasive prole. Mobile data access for all salaried workers appears to be Sharp thinking.


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