Tapwave prepares mobile gaming handheld

Device includes personal information management tools

BOSTON -- Tapwave came out of stealth mode Tuesday, revealing some details of its forthcoming mobile gaming handheld device that will be released for sale in the U.S. by the end of the year.

Made up of former Palm executives, Tapwave will release a handheld device designed primarily for gaming, but that also features personal information management tools, audio and video players, and even a word processor. The device is known only by its code name, Helix, and features a backlit 3.8-inch screen in a package that weighs less than six ounces (168 grams).

The company, based in Mountain View, California, was founded in 2001, but is only releasing details about its product now. Several prominent game companies are expected to license their titles for Helix, including Activision, makers of the Tony Hawk Pro Skater series, and Midway Games, developers of the Mortal Kombat series.

Helix will be marketed to "the handheld game user who has graduated beyond the Nintendo (Co. Ltd.) Game Boy experience," the company said in a briefing document.

Tapwave will use the i.MX family of processors from Motorola in the Helix device. The graphics processors will be provided by one of ATI Technologies' Imageon products for handheld devices. Dual rechargeable lithium batteries will be installed in the Helix device, but the company is not releasing estimates on the length of the battery life just yet.

Bluetooth will be included with the product to enable 8 players to engage in multiplayer games wirelessly. They'll have to be in the same room, however, as Bluetooth's range is generally confined to about 10 meters. Users will be able to plug in Wi-Fi cards, digital cameras, or memory cards through SD (secure digital) slots.

Tapwave licensed the Palm OS 5.2 operating system from Palm subsidiary PalmSource in a deal announced this week at the PalmSource Developer Seminar. Users can keep their calendar and address book information on the device up to date when not playing games with the Hot Sync feature of Palm OS. Tapwave is also working with the thousands of developers for Palm OS to bring applications to Helix when it is released.

The business world is getting serious about gaming, as more traditional forms of technology stagnate with corporations reluctant to spend money on new products. Several cell phone makers and carriers are stepping up efforts to allow users to download games to their handsets, and Sony and Microsoft are battling for the future of the console gaming market.

In order to succeed in the mobile gaming world, developers need to create multifunction devices that, in addition to sophisticated games, can also handle sophisticated games, but make phone calls, store important information, and play different types of media, said panelists at the recent Games and Mobile Forum in New York.