Handspring plans Asian developer support

Officials from Handspring Inc. said during the Hong Kong launch of the company's latest offering, Visor Edge, that a broad range of applications and accessories for its PDAs (personal digital assistants) will be the key driver behind their market acceptance.

As such, one of Handspring's main focuses today is to nurture and provide better support to independent developers working on applications for its Springboard platform around the world, including those in Asia, according to William Holtzman, international vice president of Handspring.

The Visor Edge, available at HK$3,350 (US$429), is a slim-design PDA with a detachable Springboard expansion slot.

For Asia-Pacific, Handspring devoted the last six months to building up a distributor base for its family of products, according to company officials. Its distributors in Asia include PacRim Technologies and the GrandTech Group. Holtzman said Handspring's next mission in the region is to set up local technical support for module developers.

If everything goes according to plan, local technical support resources will be built up in the region within the firm's next financial year, which starts from July. In addition, the PDA vendor also plans to establish a regional office either in Hong Kong or Singapore to support sales and provide marketing, Holtzman said.

Portable Innovation Technology, the first independent developer for the Springboard platform in Hong Kong, has rolled out its first application for Visor, dubbed the MemPlug SmartMedia Adapter Springboard module, Holtzman said. MemPlug allows Visor users to access data stored on SmartMedia memory cards. Handspring is also in the process of shipping more Springboard modules to the region, including modules for secure digital and compact flash adapters later this year.

Though the exact number of Springboard module developers in Asia was not made available by the company, Holtzman said more than 30 percent of the 300 licensed developers working on applications for the Visor PDA around the world are based outside of the U.S. Only 20 percent of the company's total sales are international, he added.

Despite the fact that Handspring itself has introduced four different Springboard modules since the launch of its PDAs 18 months ago, Holtzman said the company does not intend to compete with its developers and currently has no such development projects under way. The four modules Handspring developed, which have functionality for backing up data, extending memory, playing games and enabling wireless communication, were only made to demonstrate the possible functionality of the devices, Holtzman claimed.

Since the Visor hit the market in 1999, a total of 50 modules have been introduced to the market. Holtzman said he expected that number to double or triple this year.

Finally, regarding the price cut announced in mid-April by Palm in order to dump its inventory of older models, Holtzman said Handspring has no intention to follow suit and engage in a price war. The company is happy with the 31 percent gross margin it currently enjoys and does not see any reason to drop prices in the near future, he added.

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