New handhelds hold corporate promise

Last week's unveiling of a new, less expensive alternative to the PalmPilot is a sign that more and better handhelds are coming for corporate users, analysts said.

Handspring in Mountain View, California, last week announced the Visor handheld, which analysts said could be useful for corporate and vertical applications because of its built-in expansion slot.

Analyst Rob Enderle at Giga Information Group in Santa Clara, California, said the Visor is "arguably better at lower cost" than the PalmPilot, especially with the proprietary expansion slot that allows integration of wireless modems, full-size keyboards and other devices.

Handspring was founded last year by Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, founders of Palm Computing. The Visor uses the Palm operating system.

From a design and price perspective, the $US149 Visor and its Springboard expansion slot seem aimed at the corporate buyer, analysts said. But Handspring, with 40 employees, has no corporate sales force or plans to chase that market, a Handspring spokesman said. For now, the Visor will be sold over the Web, with retail store sales starting early next year.

"Even though Handspring isn't chasing corporate buyers, it certainly could be a lower-cost alternative for certain vertical applications," said Phillip Redman, an analyst at The Yankee Group in Boston. For example, the Visor could be attached to a thermometre to automatically record patients' temperatures.

Even as Handspring focuses on consumers, analysts predicted that Palm Computing will abandon the consumer market and go after more lucrative corporate sales, selling wireless services and packaging e-mail applications with PalmPilots, which will drop in price later this year. Palm Computing is being spun off from Santa Clara, California-based 3Com.

Other market moves

In addition to the Visor and the new focus on the enterprise by Palm Computing, the handheld market is expecting other moves, Enderle said. Symbian in London plans to add computing capabilities to cellular phones. It also plans to develop a larger handheld with a keyboard running its Epoc operating system, which will be a direct competitor with the Jupiter-class machines from Windows CE, he added.

And Wireless Knowledge in San Diego, a Microsoft-Qualcomm alliance, is expected to announce a wireless platform by year's end, Enderle said.

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