Under a memorandum of understanding, the leader in the American portable computer market, TOSHIBA CORP., will team up with the originator of the Java programming language, SUN MICROSYSTEMS, INC., to develop a mobile network computer system. By adapting Java to the mobile market and drawing on Toshiba's expertise in the hardware end of this business, the prospective partners hope to bring greater flexibility to the work of road warriors. For example, sales people in the field could check the status of orders or place orders from a handheld terminal. Although the main target of the collaboration apparently is Japan, Toshiba and Sun Microsystems initially will gear their work to the U.S. market. Toshiba released its first Java-based network computer at home in January.
The customer support center FUJITSU PC CORP. opened last fall in Memphis, Tennessee (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 338, November 1997, p. 2) has a new neighbor, a product configuration center. The Milpitas, California company initially is using the facility to configure its LifeBook series of notebook computers and install software. By midyear, however, the product configuration center will add build-to-order capabilities. That will allow LifeBook buyers to specify for their machines operating system, processor speed, pointing device, screen size and type, hard drive and memory size. Fujitsu PC's goal is to ship out products within 48 hours of receiving orders.
Convinced that many Americans want a computer simply to write and communicate rather than compute, BROTHER INDUSTRIES, LTD.'s Somerset, New Jersey subsidiary introduced the Geobook NB-80C laptop. For $800, or about half what a standard low-end notebook costs, buyers gain access to the World Wide Web, the Internet, electronic mail, calendars, spreadsheets and address books via a machine with a 33-kilobit modem, a 1.44-megabyte floppy drive, a full-size keyboard and a color VGA (video graphics array) 10.4-inch display. The pricing differential primarily reflects the fact that the Geobook does not use the Windows operating system, which eliminates the need for a hard drive and an expensive processor.
Hoping that lower prices will jump-start sales of its notebook computers, Milpitas, California-based HITACHI PC CORP. lowered prices on five of its models by as much as 20 percent. Covered by the cuts were the high-end VisionBook Pro 7580 and 7590, the VisionBook Plus 5260 and 5280 value notebooks and the VisionBook Traveler mininotebook. The least-expensive VisionBook now starts at just under $1,600.
HITACHI, LTD. also is trying to gain an early lead in the emerging U.S. market for handheld personal computers running Windows CE 2.0. Its HITACHI HOME ELECTRONICS (AMERICA), INC. subsidiary has on the market what is said to be the first color unit with an oversized screen (8.1 inches measured diagonally) and a desktop-like 74-key keyboard. The $1,000 or so HPW-200EC, which weighs less than 2 pounds with its battery pack, is powered by a 100-megahertz version of the Hitachi SuperH SH3 32-bit RISC (reduced instruction-set computing) processor. Hitachi Home Electronics also is marketing a new monochrome handheld PC, the HPW- 20E8M, for around $600.
Smart cards and flash memory now are used predominantly in digital cameras and personal digital assistants. TOSHIBA CORP. and FISCHER INTERNATIONAL SYSTEMS CORP. of Naples, Florida plan to bring this technology to PCs. They formed SMARTDISK CORP., also headquartered in Naples, to make and market an adapter that allows any PC with a floppy drive to read and write data to and from Toshiba's SmartMedia flash memory cards and smart cards. The Smarty smart card reader/writer and the FlashPath SmartMedia reader/writer will be manufactured in the United States and the Philippines for worldwide sale. Both products have the same dimensions as a floppy disk and work from a floppy drive. Fischer is providing the technology for the adapters, while Toshiba is contributing its manufacturing expertise and international marketing presence. Toshiba currently has a 40 percent interest in SmartDisk, which started up with a staff of 30, but it expects to bring in other Japanese investors.
As part of a strategic alliance, audio equipment manufacturer AIWA CO., LTD. invested an undisclosed amount in CASTLEWOOD SYSTEMS, INC., the developer of the ORB removable disk drive. Incorporating new magnetoresistive head technology, the drive has a storage capacity of 2.16 gigabytes and a sustained data transfer rate of 12.2 megabytes per second, which is claimed to be the fastest speed of any removable media product now available. The Pleasanton, California company will begin shipping four versions of its ORB drive this spring. The two external configurations will be priced around $200 each, while the 2.16-gigabyte disk will go for $30 or so.
An exchange rate of ¥129=$1.00 was used in this report.