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Will Arabs go for PocketPCs in 2002 ?

There's a lot of talk about the PocketPC standard, especially now as Microsoft has revealed its latest PocketPC 2002 operating system...

There's a lot of talk about the PocketPC standard, especially now as Microsoft has revealed its latest PocketPC 2002 operating system, with a host of new features and with major manufacturers like Toshiba, Compaq, Sony, HP and everyone else preparing to launch PocketPC units. So, if the PocketPC is such a great idea, why hasn't it made the expected impact yet, and will it ever make an impact in our region! With a price tag of around $500, which could end up being around $600 in the Middle East, a PocketPC will cost you as much as a new P4 case-without the monitor-so why would you be interested? Add to that some technical glitches, such as incompatibilities with some Windows applications and you've got valid reasons for consumers not to readily adopt pocket computing. However, some of the units launched, especially the iPaq from Compaq, have been relatively successful in the United States and Europe because there's always a market for early adopters of high tech gadgets. The question is whether or not there are such buyers in our region. I, personally, only know of one person who bought an iPaq.
Microsoft and pocket PC manufacturers are expecting current Palm users, whose units cost around $300 but do not run Windows, to be willing to pay the extra $200 or so and get PocketPCs. That, perhaps, could also be the case in the Middle East. Microsoft's new operating system for the PocketPC looks like Windows XP and it handles handle memory management more effectively.

Actually, bottlenecks such as memory size, battery power and processor speed will be the main factors behind the success or failure of PocketPCs to make an impact. The fact is that it's not easy to squeeze more than 32MB RAM onto such a tiny device, without using separate flash cards. As for processing power, Intel's breakthroughs in transistor technology hold promise for smaller, faster processors, but for now the Intel StrongARM processor found in PocketPCs is the best technology available and it's a little bit slow. However, with some memory management tricks, users can speed up the performance of their PocketPCs.

Applications are another issue. Although there are Pocket versions of Word and Excel which come bundled in the operating system, there's little else for the business user! For Internet leisure and business users, the PocketPC offers just about enough, with versions of Explorer and MSN Messenger that work pretty much like the desktop versions. Still, Pocket Explorer needs some work to handle all the pop-ups and plug-ins the Internet throws at you nowadays. Also, there's a version of Windows Media Player 8, which supports streaming video. For users concerned about "organizer" software, Outlook works fine with the PocketPC. In fact, it works very well with the desktop version. So, if PocketPCs are evolving nicely and the future looks bright for this new standard, why aren't they expected to make an impact in our part of the world yet? Frankly, it's because we're still in the phase of shifting to notebook PCs. For many years, computer companies have been telling us that the age of mobile computing has arrived in the Arab World, however, it usually turns out that everyone still wants a desktop. The simple reasons are the massive difference in price, and the fact that a lot of people are still buying their first PC which is most often a full-feature desktop.

There will be some people out there who want to "venture" into the world of pocket computing, but the year 2002, in spite of the PocketPC 2002 operating system, won't be the year that tens of thousands of Arabs carry a PocketPC. Maybe the year after, who knows! With the unpredictability we've experienced in the region's adoption of the notebook computer, I wouldn't be too optimistic.

Zeid Nasser
The Star

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