Prices for PDA-style Windows SideShow devices will start from about $80, according to a developer that demonstrated prototypes to Texyt.com today. The touchscreen handheld gadgets share many of the features of PDAs, smartphones, and media players like Apple's iPod, but they connect wirelessly to a PC to send or receive data.
A high-end SideShow device with a slide-out Qwerty keyboard will cost 'approximately $150', said staff of Taiwan-based chip manufacturer, Winbond, which makes CPUs and other chips for the devices. A smaller device with a square 3.5-inch touch screen will cost 'about $80', they predicted.
Bluetooth to connect to outside world
The SideShow handhelds connect to a host Windows Vista PC via Bluetooth to synchronize email, contacts, appointments, RSS feeds, documents and other data, said Winbond senior sales manager, David Sung. They can download and play music, games, and media files.
While Winbond did not identify the prototypes, which are marked with Microsoft labels, they appear to be engineering samples developed by US-based Ricavision, which is working closely with Microsoft on the first standalone Windows SideShow devices.
Ricavision is developing several SideShow devices. These include the MK 140 FM 'Fridge Magnet/Scribbler Device', which appears to be the smaller of the two prototypes shown by Winbond. The larger prototype with a sliding keyboard appears to be Ricavision's 'MK140 eChatter'. This has a 5-inch rectangular screen.
Realtime wireless chat via keyboard
The small keyboard allows users to edit documents, or respond to email hand have the response sent the next time they synchronize with the host PC. The keyboard can also be used for real time instant messaging via Bluetooth - if a host PC is within range. A maximum range of 100 meters is possible, Winbond staff claimed. However, this is likely to be reduced by interference from other wireless devices, they pointed out.
The devices have a USB socket to recharge their internal batteries, and for data synchronization if Bluetooth is unavailable. Both products will run for 16 hours on battery power, according to Ricavision.
Ricavision is also developing the 'Home E-Reader', a Windows SideShow handheld with a large, high-contrast, low power e-Paper display. The E-Reader is designed for off line reading of downloaded documents and e-books.
Another new market for Microsoft
Microsoft is stressing to its partners that SideShow devices are intended to be a companion to Windows Vista PCs – or at least, that is how they should be presented.
One manager from a hardware developer attending Microsoft's WinHEC conference in Taipei, who did not wish to be named, claimed that Microsoft is hoping to create a new market for low cost SideShow devices without alarming the smartphone and PDA makers who are using its Windows Mobile OS and Pocket PC platform.
However, with the potential for overlap in features and end users, this is difficult, he said. Smartphone makers are said to be worried that corporate customers might opt for cheaper, less feature-rich phones if they can rely on a cheap SideShow handheld for contacts, e-mail and scheduling. Microsoft has announced that Windows Mobile will soon support SideShow gadgets, perhaps alleviating this concern.
Winbond brings chip price down
Winbond has developed an integrated controller chip for SideShow, the WPCE521L, which incorporates a 32-bit ARM RISC CPU core, a LCD interface, USB interface, power management, and other functions. The company also offers SDRAM and other chips for SideShow products.
Staff estimated the cost of the key chips for a standalone SideShow device at about $10. The most expensive component is the color LCD touchscreen, they said. Winbond is offering a complete reference design, making it easy for manufacturers to rapidly develop their own low cost SideShow devices using its chips.
Until recently, the main chip developer for SideShow devices was PortalPlayer, which also designed the chips inside the original iPod, and was recently acquired by Nvidia.
The new handheld SideShow devices are expected to be on the market well before the end of the year, Winbond staff said, but could not give a precise date. Ricavision has already begun marketing a final version of a SideShow remote control for Windows Media Center PCs.
Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that PortalPlayer was acquired by Apple. PortalPlayer was in fact purchased by Nvidia. Thanks to Jerry Kindall for the correction.