Palm signs deal with TI for wireless chips

After months of speculation over the direction of the Palm Inc. product road map, the company announced Monday its choice of Texas Instruments (TI) as its processor partner for its next generation of PDAs.

Although not an exclusive deal with TI, a Palm executive said that the TI OMAP (Open Multimedia Applications Platform), which uses a version of the ARM (Advanced RISC Machines) processor, was selected over both Intel Corp. and Motorola Inc., also ARM licensees.

Despite Palm's reluctance to talk about future products, the selection of Dallas -based TI's OMAP family will give most Palm watchers a clear indication of where the product line is headed.

For example, TI's OMAP chip is offered as a unitary device that includes both an ARM application and a TI digital signal processor. Using such a chip, Santa Clara, Calif.-based Palm would be able to offer a so-called converged handheld that includes both cellular capability along with PIM (Personal Information Management) applications. As packet-based wireless networks begin to deploy, the OMAP would also allow Palm to offer devices with e-mail functionality similar to the Research In Motion (RIM) BlackBerry PDA.

Gilles Delfassey, general manager of TI's wireless division, said the companies are in fact collaborating on technology and product development as well as joint marketing, for both 2.5G and 3G (third-generation) mobile Internet appliances. They are also using TI's wireless GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile communication/General Packet Radio Service) technology for its core PDA product line.

One industry analyst said the move is a good first step, but said Palm will still have difficulty competing against Pocket PC devices in the enterprise.

"If you look on a month-to-month basis and talk to enterprise people who make the buying decisions, many are writing off Palm," said Tim Scannell at Mobile Insights in Mountain View, Calif.

According to Scannell, corporate users have been getting different stories about which way Palm is going, and what they will support.

"They still don't know if they will support Bluetooth," Scannell said. "But if this announcement is meant to help clarify their strategic position, it is a step in the right direction."

But although the OMAP processor has the capability to offer voice, streaming media, and video conferencing, neither TI's Delfassey or Palm's Bradley would hint at what capabilities Palm would incorporate in new products. "We will be talking more in the second half [of 2002] about GPRS and GSM products," said Todd Bradley, Palm's COO.

Although there will be a new operating system based on the OMAP processor and the ARM application processor which it also uses, Bradley said that any application created for the current operating system, 4.0, and higher, would be backward-compatible with the new OS.

In addition, TI said in a statement that it will invest US$100 million to speed up the development of "OMAP-enhanced" wireless applications.

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