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Pocket PC Films Wants Movies nReach of PDAs

27 Jun, 2002 By: Holly J. Wagner

At first blush, a movie on a personal data assistant (PDA) looks a bit like drive-in cinema for an ant farm.

The idea of watching movies on a PDA, handheld or “pocket” PC — devices that go under names like Palm, Treo and Clie — probably seems foreign to those who are accustomed to seeing movies on the giant silver screen.

That's not so far off: Other countries have been much quicker to adopt ever-smaller wireless devices and use them for everything from storing corporate documents to playing a form of virtual paintball on public streets.

Now a Colorado company called nReach is testing kiosks that will let users download movies, games, audio books and more to PDAs on the fly.

People have been playing video games on handheld consoles and watching movies on airplanes for decades. The founder and CEO of nReach, Mike Stemple, contends PDAs are the next step.

“The screen [resolution] on a Pocket PC is 320 x 240,”Stemple said. “A lot of the new portable DVD players are getting that resolution.”

nReach wants to go that next step, luring an untapped market of Generation X and Y consumers.

“They are the people that are really into technology, have a handheld device and, because of the new world we live in, are having to spend more time waiting for things in line,” said Stemple. Demand for PDA content has grown since the 9/11 bombings forced tighter security at airports, he noted.

“[PDAs] have become very elaborate and exotic expressions of personal style,” said Stemple, noting users easily adopt personalization features such as custom skins and themes.

For retailers, the kiosks offer an opportunity to attract the same demographic.

The kiosks are in trials at some large home electronics retailers, and nReach is negotiating with mall property managers and “a large video retailer,” Stemple said. Confidentiality agreements bar him from disclosing their names, but Stemple said the retailers want to attract the same demographic into their stores.

Film distributors are starting to get on board. Pocket PC Films offers content from several smaller suppliers on CD and soon via nReach kiosks. But the big kids are starting to play, too: Lions Gate Entertainment recently signed up and will offer titles like Natural Born Killers through Pocket PC later this year. Buying the PDA version on a CD for download to the PDA will cost about $14.99 per title, but the company expects to shave about 25 percent off the price when it offers nReach downloads because the user provides the storage disk for the transaction, Pocket PC spokesman Ed Baran said.

The nReach kiosks work like a cross between an ATM and gas pumps that accept credit cards.

The user puts the PDA's memory card into a slot similar to the way they would use a card at an ATM. The kiosk offers an on-screen menu of entertainment ranging from movies and video games to audio books and travel guides. It even makes suggestions for entertainment that will fill the amount of memory offered on each compatible PDA manufacturer's card.

“The user really wants strong entertainment content” and so far has limited options, Stemple said. “In the PDA world, applications are published so quickly that by the time they get it to CD, it's already old news.”

The customer swipes a credit card in a different slot to pay for the content and gets a printed receipt, plus an option to have one sent by e-mail. Once the customer has finished making and paying for selections, the information is downloaded onto the memory card.

“The biggest hurdle people face is that it's just a different way of doing things,” said Stemple.

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