Q&A: Microsoft Partners Put Holiday Shine on Products for Pocket PCs

REDMOND, Wash., Dec. 18, 2002 — Holiday shoppers are finding some of the lowest prices ever for Windows Powered Pocket PCs this holiday season. The recent introduction of Pocket PCs from Dell and HP, some with a suggested retail price of less than US$200 (with rebate) opens the door for a broad range of customers to Windows Powered devices. Independent software and hardware makers have recognized this expanded opportunity and are creating myriad products that enable consumers to add specialized software and hardware to their devices.

PressPass spoke to executives from three such companies about their newest products. Each also discussed their membership in Microsoft’s Mobility Partner Advisory Council. Microsoft created the group in January to serve as a focused feedback mechanism for Microsoft mobility platform development and to provide new technical, marketing and business development support to companies making significant inroads in the mobility space. The three executives are:

  • Bill McEwen , president and CEO, Amiga, Inc., a provider of multi-media technologies,

  • Peter Phillips , vice president of marketing, Socket Communications, Inc., which produces a broad range of connection products for Windows Powered handheld devices, including Bluetooth cards, wireless LAN cards, digital phone cards, 56K modem cards, and Ethernet cards.

  • Craig Rairdin , president, Laridian, Inc., which specializes in publishing the Bible and other religious materials on handheld platforms,

PressPass: Tell us about some of the products each of your companies has developed for Windows Powered devices that you expect to do well this holiday season?

McEwen (Amiga): We launched the new Amiga Games Pocket Pak this week. It offers four games on an SD (secure digital) card. You simply pop the card into the SD slot on your Pocket PC or Pocket PC Phone Edition and you’re up and running. Pocket Pak 1 includes a flying simulation game, Planet Zed, an amazing crossword, and a unique mind-bending puzzle game called Blobula. You have your classic word search, and 10 different versions of solitaire.

In each Pak, we try to give a variety of content including an action arcade, a puzzle game, a classic game and something a little bit different. The Pak is actually very addicting. I recently took my son to a children’s concert and was quietly playing some of the games from the pack on my Pocket PC Phone Edition. The next thing I knew I had a whole bunch of parents around me trying out the different games.

The Pocket Paks will also work on the Windows Powered Smartphones when they begin shipping in the United States. The same SD cards will pop into a Smartphone, all scaled properly.

Phillips (Socket): We produce several connection products for Pocket PCs, including modems, wireless Ethernet, Bluetooth, wired Ethernet, serial cards, digital phone cards and wireless wide area connectivity. The two that are the most popular are the modem and the Wi-Fi card. The modem is popular with people because they’re comfortable connecting with them and they understand how modems work. Wi-Fi, which is really cool, is gaining tremendous momentum in the home market.

This Christmas season is going to be exciting from a sales point of view both here and, especially, in Europe. We’ve been doing really well with Bluetooth in Europe because there are a lot more handsets available in that market today. I think we are going to have a strong Christmas. In the United States, it is going to be a popular product as well, but we are still in the process of looking for carriers.

Rairdin (Laridian): Our hottest product is our PocketBible program, which is essentially a book reader that is optimized for the Bible and Bible-study materials. Basically, you have the entire text of the Bible available anywhere you are.

We have ClearType support, so it’s a very pleasant reading experience. But it also gives you the ability to do some complex searches. You can enter a word or phrase and you can quickly find all instances where that word or phrase is mentioned in the Bible. Then you have the option to go there and see if that is the verse you are looking for.

PocketBible also allows you to enter your own notes on each verse. It’s very easy to use. Bible software like this has existed on the desktop for years, but you can’t take a desktop with you everywhere you go. Even a laptop can be a bit inconvenient at times. The great thing about the Pocket PC device is you can take it wherever you go.

PressPass: Do you have any new Windows Powered products or ones that will be available soon?

McEwen (Amiga) : Amiga has a rich history in video and film work, and some of the other titles we have coming out in the next 90 days will allow user to manipulate video on their Windows Powered devices. Basically, you can take pictures on a digital camera, take that content and plug it in your Pocket PC and use that as your editor. You don’t have to wait until you get home to your desktop PC to begin enjoying your photos.

Phillips (Socket): One product that is new for us is a Bluetooth GPS receiver. There is a lot of excitement around that product. It’s a stand-alone Bluetooth-enabled GPS receiver that receives satellite data. It’s a self-contained unit with enough battery power to run for six hours that can sit anywhere, whether it be in the car or in a purse or backpack. It connects to your Pocket PC device through Bluetooth, so there are no wires. It will enable you to get optimal performance and ultimate portability.

We are going to be shipping it shortly after the first of the year with a navigation piece of software that will enable you to pull an address from a database for GPS directions. It will not only show you how to get there, but it features voice directions that tell you when to make the turn or merge into another lane.

Rairdin (Laridian): We have a couple of products that supplement PocketBible. One of them is called DailyReader. There is a certain category of Bible-related books called “daily devotionals” where you read a passage of the Bible and associated commentary. Those books are arranged so you read one section every day, and over the course of the year you read the entire Bible. DailyReader keeps track of your progress. As you read through these, you check each one off, and if you miss a day it takes you back to the last segment you haven’t read yet. When you are reading through today’s selection, you click on the Bible passage and the text pops up from PocketBible. Another popular product we have is called Memorize. It helps people who want to memorize certain passages of scripture.

PressPass: Who do you think is buying these types of holiday gifts and who will be finding them in their stockings?

McEwen (Amiga): Generally, the action games really appeal to guys. The puzzle games, especially the crossword and word search, appeal more to women. Primarily folks who in the last few years have bought a Pocket PC device that came with an SD slot are the folks who are picking up the product. With Pocket PC prices so low, however, I anticipate many people will be buying a device and accessories for gifts. The cool thing is that with a Pocket PC and an Amiga Anywhere Game Pak, you have a device that is better than Gameboy and an excellent organizer among other things. Essentially, it’s two devices in one.

Phillips (Socket): All of our products are geared toward improving the productivity of a working professional through connectivity. Most are specifically tailored for mobile professionals. But also, for a soccer mom or dad who is constantly on the go and has trouble finding a way to get e-mail off their Hotmail accounts, something like the Bluetooth or maybe our digital phone card products would help ease her load. That would give them the connectivity they need while running about, taking the kids from point A to point B.

Rairdin (Laridian): Our products are really for everybody. My 14-year-old daughter carries the Bible on her PDA, just like I do. The products are also helpful for people who need large-print Bibles. The advantage of the Bible on your Pocket PC is you just bump up the font size and you have a large-print Bible. Somebody else might pick it up and want to see more than four words at a time, so you just bump the font back down in size.

PressPass: What are some of the reasons your companies have invested in developing products for Windows Powered devices?

McEwen (Amiga) : We found that Microsoft is great to work with. It was very easy for us to explain what we wanted to do and quickly get their support. The products themselves are excellent devices. There’s a lot of power to them; you don’t have to wait for things to happen. The color is amazing.

My 7-year-old actually came up with a commercial for the devices. It goes like this: Imagine a kid and an adult both sitting on a couch, the kid is playing a Gameboy and the adult is playing a game on a Pocket PC. The kid looks over says, “Can we trade?” Not bad for a 7-year-old. But that’s literally the case. We have lots of games on Pocket PC right now, and have another 16 titles ready for this product line. Also, part of the reason is with the way we’ve developed our products. Amiga has over 3,000 developers creating content.

Phillips (Socket): It’s the processing power, the color displays, the ability to multitask, the ability to basically have a really small computer wherever you go. So for example, take the GPS product. Without the color and the audiovisual capabilities and the speaker capabilities within the device, it would not be able to tell you to turn right in 5,000 feet. A slower processor would not be able to give you the information you need in real time to stay on course. The same thing is true with regards to the ability to have the applications recognize a network.

Rairdin (Laridian): We also develop for other types of handheld devices. One of the frustrations we have on other platforms is the developers who create them don’t look to the future. For example, each OEM has a different way of implementing color and high-resolution displays, since these weren’t foreseen in the original design. The benefit of Windows Powered devices is that there is a mature design. A mature philosophy went into the devices. When a new Windows Powered platform comes out with more resolution, or more memory, or more connectivity, I can be confident our software will still run. The maturity of design on Windows makes it a pleasure to program for. In general, Windows Powered devices are faster, have higher resolution than the competition, more color, more memory and are more compatible with a desktop PC. The Bible takes about 2.5 megabytes. So we require a lot of processing power and resources to make this thing work. The Pocket PC platform never disappoints us in that respect.

PressPass: How has the Mobility Partner Advisory Council benefited your companies’ efforts to develop Windows Powered products?

McEwen (Amiga) : Before we were part of the council, I spent two years trying to work with Microsoft. I had to go to many different divisions, work with many different groups, work with many product managers. Each time I would have to tell the same story about why we should be working closer together. Within 90 days of being part of MPAC, we had meetings with the proper people. In fact, in less than a day we cut the deal for the Pocket Pak. There is no other way to say this: we would not be having the success we are having, nor would we be seeing the OEM partners and other folks coming to us, had we not been part of MPAC.

Phillips (Socket): A couple components have really helped us. By being a part of the council, we are getting updated on a regular basis in terms of new development issues, new releases of operating systems, planned changes, other aspects of the platform. It also introduces us to partners in the industry who are doing complementary types of products, which helps when trying to co-promote our solutions. Obviously from a PR point of view, it extends the marketing more broadly.

Rairdin (Laridian): We have been really pleased with the technical support that we have gotten for our developers. We had some issues that really had us stumped. We had to work around them in our code, and then explain to our customers to ignore these little problems that we couldn’t fix. Through MPAC, Microsoft provided technical support resources that helped us resolve these issues. The problems were small things, and kind of technically complicated, but they certainly affected our users negatively. Within just a couple of days we had answers, and that meant within in a couple of weeks it was rolled into our code. Our users are happy.

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