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Rocky Mountain Multimedia, Inc.
ELECTRONIC ENGINEERING TIMES : SUNNYVALE, CALIF. - In an effort to bring the PC business model to the industrial embedded systems market, Mainbrace Corp., a developer of Windows CE-based digital appliances, is launching a ready-to-manufacture Windows CE-based Portable Data Terminal (PDT) platform. The company is aiming the new platform squarely at system OEMs for use in vertical markets.
Called FastTrack PDT, the platform, complete with software, hardware and a comprehensive manufacturing package, was designed to enable OEMs to enter the data-collection market with an easy-to-modify Windows CE product.
FastTrack PDT is a product "that's predeveloped and prevalidated by us, " said Thomas Wong, president of Mainbrace. "OEMs can put a new embedded system on their production line within eight to 12 weeks." They are then free to wrap an industrial design around the FastTrack PDT and add application software unique to specific products, he said.
In short, Mainbrace, a two-year-old startup, has an ambitious plan to change the way system OEMs do business in vertical markets for Windows CE-based applications. The move, if successful, could transform the vertical device market-known for its highly specialized, costly embedded DOS-based systems-to a Windows CE-based commodity market, in much the same way PCs changed the general computing world a decade ago.
Wong believes that a ready-to-manufacture product platform like FastTrack PDT will allow OEMs to save the financial and engineering resources traditionally spent on the development of vertical systems tailored to each of their customers.
Designed for data-collection systems such as bar-code scanning devices or tablets used for express package delivery services, FastTrack PDT is a handheld device with a connectivity feature for uploading and downloading data. It's based on a high-performance Link Up ARM720 processor 32-bit RISC single-chip solution.
FastTrack PDT features a 320 x 240 monochrome display with a touch screen for navigation and data inputs. It has a built-in V.32 modem that runs at 28.8k bits per second. The standard memory configuration consists of 8 Mbytes of flash ROM and 8 Mbytes of SDRAM. The system comes with a voice recorder, stereo headphone and mono speaker. While FastTrack is capable of continuous operation for eight hours on two AA cells, it also includes a rechargeable nickel-metal-hydride battery.
FastTrack's software package includes the FastTrack PDT Software Development Kit, which works with Microsoft's Visual C++, and allows independent software vendors to see at a high level how their software is running.
Mainbrace has lined up companies such as Cadence Design Systems and Taiwan-based Askey International Corp. to help promote FastTrack.
Cadence, for example, is offering customers two Mainbrace-developed reference design platforms through its design services. One is a reference design platform Mainbrace specifically customized for Cadence earlier this year, to build systems such as Web pads and portable devices with advanced media and communication capabilities. The other is a newly released FastTrack PDT designed for smaller handheld devices.
Askey, meanwhile, has become a Mainbrace customer in order to boost its efforts to develop its own palm PC products, dubbed MobileLink. Jeff Kao, product manager of Askey, said that his company approached Mainbrace largely because Askey wanted to learn about Windows CE quickly, so that it could evaluate Microsoft's operating system for its own palm PC.
Mainbrace's track record and experience with Windows CE encouraged Askey to pursue that partnership. "While we are new to this palm market and new to [working with] Microsoft, Mainbrace already has a close working relationship with Microsoft, and it cooperated with Philips for a similar product before, " said Kao.
OEMs can purchase FastTrack PDT to build their own Windows CE-based portable data terminals for a one-time fee of $250,000, or they can structure a royalty deal with Mainbrace. "We can be flexible," said Wong. If OEMs want source code rather than object code for FastTrack PDT, the price for the one-time fee will go up, however, he added.
Mainbrace, funded by private and corporate investors, has 22 employees and revenue of under $5 million.
The company plans to launch over the next few months a new version of ready-to-manufacture Windows CE products featuring multimedia capabilities as well as enhanced communication functions that include Ethernet and wireless. Mainbrace is also developing products targeting the Internet consumer appliance market, which are scheduled for release in the first quarter of 2000.
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