Palm Executive Has His Hands Full With PocketPC

BOSTON (05/08/2000) - Chuck Yort is vice president of business and government for Palm Inc., which dominates the market for handheld personal digital assistants. He spoke recently with Senior Editor John Cox in the wake of Microsoft Corp.'s launch of the new PocketPC operating software, which will compete with Palm's PalmOS.

NW: What's your reaction to the PocketPC platform?

Yort: Microsoft is a very formidable competitor. With the PocketPC, they've done some things to improve the user interface. But they still want to put a PC in your hand and link it to Microsoft Exchange. . . . That's not what people want. Why put heavy calculation and computational power in my handheld when it makes more sense to leave that on the network? Our vision is a net-enabled infrastructure.

But Palm devices weren't designed for net access. You don't connect to wireless LANs, for example.

For LAN access, there is the integrated PalmOS device from Symbol Technologies.

That's being used in warehouses, distribution centers and so on.

NW: We're looking at how to address wireless LANs in other environments. We want to create a wireless LAN attachment [for Palm devices]. We're also considering whether we want to create an integrated wireless LAN product [under the Palm brand]. But how will those features affect things like the weight of the device, battery life and so on?

Yort: We're working with Bluetooth [a short-range radio link to let handhelds share data] and with Ethernet cradles.

NW: It sounds like Microsoft has an edge - PocketPCs will be able to take various interface cards from Socket Communications and attach them to Ethernets, wireless LANs or wireless carriers. How will you compete?

Yort: Microsoft seems to be making a Swiss army knife. We want to create a platform on which you can build more targeted appliances.

You'll see us move quickly with a variety of different expansion technologies that will enable Palm devices to have these kinds of net access. Wireless will become increasingly more important.

NW: PocketPC ships with the pocket version of Microsoft Internet Explorer.

What's Palm doing to improve the 'Web experience' of its customers?

Yort: We have partnerships with AvantGo for Web browsing, with its HTML browser. We also let you cache Web pages on the Palm and access them offline.

At CeBIT [earlier this spring], we demonstrated . . . the Palm V with our Web clipping technology, via an infrared port to a cell phone for Internet access.

[Web clipping formats Web pages for the Palm screen and speeds up displaying them.]In the broadest terms, we try to take as much advantage as possible of the [screen] real estate that a Palm offers, within the constraints of available bandwidth. You'll see us do more as bandwidth improves.

Web browsing is phase zero in the enterprise. The question is what does the employee do during the day to find and get information? Browsing is about reading documents vs., for example, creating processes to take and fulfill an order.

NW: What's your main challenge in the enterprise?

Yort: We've been too successful in the consumer space. The chief information officers and chief technology officers I'm trying to reach aren't aware of the power of the Palm platform or our close ties with companies like Oracle, IBM, Siebel and others.

Now the customers who are extending their nets are aware. One hospital had an intranet infrastructure, but not all the people that needed to access it were onsite with a PC-based browser. So they chose the Palm VII [with a built-in wireless link to Palm's Palm.net, a Web-based content site], with an encrypted connection to their intranet.

NW: Is anything changing about how companies buy Palm handhelds?

Yort: A lot of these are still coming in through the back door [bought by individual business users]. We have programs in place to help IS departments set standards and support the devices. Then they want to be connected to server-based applications like groupware and e-mail.

Then one or two evangelists "get" this idea [of mobile computing]. They realize it's not just a [personal information management] device. It's a window into their enterprise infrastructure. And this is when it gets fun.

The Palm VII changed a lot of things for enterprise users; the light bulb is still going off. Our customer council recently has focused on the issue of real-time access to the corporation's existing infrastructure.

NW: What does that mean for Palm's strategy?

Yort: My group is focused on mobilizing e-business. That's different than e-commerce. E-businesss is communications within, and between, companies that have net-enabled applications. This is where a Palm wireless, and wireline, solution will capture an even higher return-on-investment for customers.

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