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Sharp introduced the PI-3000, the first in the Zaurus line of PDAs, as follow-on to Sharp's earlier Wizard line of PDAs. Featuring a black and white LCD screen, handwriting recognition, and optical communication capabilities among its features, the Zaurus soon became one of Sharp's flagship products.
The PI-4000, released in 1994, expanded the Zaurus' features with a built-in modem and facsimile functions. This was succeeded in 1995 by the PI-5000, which had e-mail and mobile phone interfaces, as well as PC linking capability. The Zaurus K-PDA was the first Zaurus to have a built-in keyboard in addition to handwriting recognition; the PI-6000 and PI-7000 brought in additional improvements.
In 1996 Sharp introduced the Sharp Zaurus ZR-5800. It used the same compact design, ports and pointing device as the previous Zaurus models. The changes were mostly in the ROM. It came with 2 MB RAM and a backlit 320x240 LCD display.
During this time, Sharp was making significant advances in color LCD technology. In May 1996, the first color Zaurus was released; the MI-10 and MI-10DC were equipped with a five inch (12.7 cm) color thin-film transistor (TFT) LCD screen. This model had the ability to connect to the internet, and had a built-in camera and audio recorder. Later that year, Sharp developed a forty inch (100 cm) TFT LCD screen, the worlds largest at the time. In December, the MI-10/10DC Zaurus was chosen as the year's best product by Information Display Magazine in the United States of America. (Computing Japan, 1996)
Sharp continued to make advancements in display technology; the Zaurus gained additional multimedia capabilities, such as video playback, with the introduction of the MI-E1 in Japan in November 2000. The MI-E1 was also the first Zaurus to support both Secure Digital flash memory cards, a feature which would become standard on future models as well.
Although the MI series was extremely popular in Japan, it was never released in either the USA or Europe - probably largely due to the strictly Japanese UI, which was never translated into any other language. As a result, the machines released outside Japan were the Linux based SL series, the first of which was the SL-5000D "developer edition." This was shortly followed by the SL-5500; both used 'Embedix' - an embedded version of the Linux operating system developed by Lineo - combined with Otopia, the Qt toolkit-based embedded application environment developed by Trolltech.
The development of the MI series in Japan was continued for a while, but the MI-E25DC has been officially declared to be the last MI-Series Zaurus.
Sharp has continued development of the SL series in Japan releasing the SL-C700, C750, C760 and C860 models which all feature 640x480 VGA screen resolution. They are all based on faster 400 MHz Intel Scale technology, although the SL-C700 was flawed and the apparent speed was the same as the 206 MHz SL-5500. All four of the SL-C models are clamshell type devices with the unusual ability to rotate the screen. This allows the device to be used in 'landscape' mode with the keyboard, much like a miniature notebook PC, or in 'portrait' mode as a PDA. (Karl, 2005)
Sharp introduced a very different device from the clamshells in the form of the SL-6000 in early 2004; the SL-6000L (Wi-Fi only, no Bluetooth) was sold in North America, the last and only device since the new series to be officially sold outside Japan. It returned to the slider form of the new series, but with a VGA display; a slider with a few key buttons covered a thumb board. It appears that there was a joint project with IBM, which sadly (but with no official news either way) failed; the 6000 did not gain mass popularity and Amazon sold off their remaindered stock cheaply. (LLC, 2010)
Barriers existing in the implementation of the Sharp Zaurus mobile service
In October 2004 Sharp announced the SL-C3000 - the world's first PDA with an integrated hard disk drive. It featured a similar hardware and software specification to the earlier C860 model; the key differences were that it only had 16 MB of flash memory yet gained an internal 4 GB micro drive (Hitachi) instead, a USB Host port, and "lost" the serial port (in some cases the components were not fitted to the motherboard or were incapable of driving the regular serial adaptor cables). The keyboard feel and layout changed somewhat, and most owners preferred it over the 760/860.
In March 2005 the C3000 product was joined by the SL-C1000 which returned to the traditional 128 MB flash memory but lost the internal micro drive. The C1000 was cheaper, lighter, faster in execution due to running from flash memory, but of course would require the user to "waste" the SD or CF card slots to fit a memory card for mass storage; at the time the largest card supported was 1GB. Unfortunately, the C1000 cannot be upgraded to fit an internal micro drive because vital components are missing, but one intrepid Zaurus owner used the space to fit internal Bluetooth and Wi-Fi modules using the USB host facility.
In June 2005, Sharp released the SL-C3100, which had flash capacity of the C1000 yet also had the micro drive, and proved a very popular model indeed. The 1000, 3000 and 3100 models proved to be quite over lockable, boosting the device's ability to play back video more smoothly. (O'Reilly 2005)
In March 2006 the latest model launched, predictably labeled as the SL-C3200. It is basically an SL-C3100 but with the newer 6 GB Hitachi micro drive and another tweak to the case colours. The Intel PXA270 CPU is a later variant, and some would regard as inferior because it cannot be over clocked so highly. The kernel gained a vital tweak to the Sharp proprietary SD/MMC module and allowed 4GB SD cards to be used (and this was quickly borrowed by 3000 and 3100 owners). The software package gained text to speech software from Nuance Communications and an upgraded dictionary.
While the SL series devices have long been sold only in Japan, there are companies in Japan who specialize in exporting them worldwide; they usually do so without modifying them at all, sometimes an English conversion is available and might be at extra cost. Not all Zaurus models came from Sharp with universal (100/110/240V) power supplies (the Zaurus takes a regulated 5V/1A supply), so either an additional or an exchanged power adaptor would be needed, and not all exporters provide this by default. Note that when buying directly from an exporter in Japan, the buyer is liable for import duties and taxes, and attempting to avoid them can be a criminal offense.
There are also companies in the US, UK and DE who are unofficial resellers; one notable example is Trisoft who prepare and certify the device to "CE" standard compliance.
Since there is no official export channel from Japan, Sharp offers no warranty or repair service outside Japan, so foreign buyers are dependent on their chosen reseller to handle repairs, usually by sending to their agent in Japan who acts as if the device was owned and used in Japan in order to have it repaired by Sharp, before sending it back to the owner. Whilst Zauruses are actually quite robust devices, due to their miniaturization they are not easily repairable by casual electronics hobbyists. (InfoWorld 2001)
In January 2007, it was reported that Sharp would discontinue production of the Zaurus line after February 2007. Later, in March, a leading European supplier tried to buy a batch of Zauruses as demand was still strong and noticed that they were all manufactured after Sharp's original cut-off date, however, Sharp was not able to explain its plans, and fans of the Zaurus are still unsure of the fate of the device.
Without clarification from Sharp, it would seem their intention is to abandon the Linux powered devices, as their newest units are the WS003SH and WS004SH which, whilst adding wireless and cellular phone and data features, run the Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system/application suite.
A mobile Internet device (MID) is a multimedia-capable mobile device providing wireless Internet access. They are designed to provide entertainment, information and location-based services for personal use, rather than for corporate use. They allow 2-way communication and real-time sharing. An MID is larger than a smartphone but smaller than an Ultra-Mobile PC (UMPC). They have been described as filling a niche between smartphones and Tablet PCs. They are an easy way to stay in contact with others wirelessly.