Last year, when Microsoft began briefing the press about Pocket PC 2002 devices, the company briefly discussed a follow-on product that it called a Wireless Pocket PC. This new device combines the functions of a Pocket PC and a digital cell phone in one unit, with a size and weight roughly comparable to today's Pocket PCs.

This product isn't the same as Microsoft's Smart Phone 2002 (formerly code-named Stinger)—an advanced cell phone with PDA capabilities. The Wireless Pocket PC is primarily a PDA, but you can also plug in a headset and use it as a phone. The devices will feature the full range of today's Pocket PC 2002 capabilities: You'll use a stylus for input, and you'll be able to install third-party software, just as you can on today's Pocket PC 2002 devices. In contrast, Smart Phone 2002 devices are designed primarily for one-handed use. Smart Phone devices will offer a subset of Pocket PC functionality and probably won't let end users add software (with the possible exception of such functions as screen backgrounds and ring tones).

At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January, Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates introduced some of the Wireless Pocket PC technology to the public. During his keynote address, he demonstrated units from Audiovox and Hewlett-Packard (HP), showing how the devices can receive a voice call while running a multimedia application. Other expected Wireless Pocket PC features include support for standard 2.5mm cellular headsets, vibrator/buzzer notification modes, and respectable battery life—at least 100 hours on standby and 3 hours of talk time.

Microsoft has built the Wireless Pocket PC on an underlying hardware architecture called Cellcore, which provides a standard set of cellular APIs that eliminate the need for developers to understand how different cellular networks operate. The architecture will supposedly be common to both Wireless Pocket PC and Smart Phone 2002 devices.

So far, my one concern with these plans is that the demo devices I've seen in this category (from Microsoft and others) were restricted to use on cellular networks that support the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM) standard, which is common overseas but is supported only by Cingular in the United States. To be successful in this country, the Wireless Pocket PC must support additional networks. At Microsoft's Mobility technical workshop last summer, a slide depicted the Cellcore API sitting on top of both GSM and Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), which implies that Wireless Pocket PCs can also work on the Sprint PCS network (which is based on CDMA).

Another possibility (sheer speculation on my part) is that Microsoft could provide the Wireless Pocket PC applications on devices that support a corporate wireless LAN (WLAN) such as 802.11 and use Voice over IP (VoIP) to provide voice capability. Such functionality would be exciting—and useful—for corporations that have existing inhouse WLANs.

As we go to press, I have no reliable information about when Wireless Pocket PC devices will ship. Stay tuned!