NEW YORK (06/28/2000) - Palm Inc. has finally opened the door to the Internet for the millions who use the popular line of handheld computers. It also opened another door that allows Palm devices to work more easily with a wide range of plug-in peripherals.
At PC Expo, executives Tuesday unveiled software that will let most Palm users connect to Palm.net, the company's own Internet portal. Today, only users of the Palm VII with its built-in wireless radio service can access Palm.Net services, such as weather reports, stock quotes and e-mail.
The software's name - Mobile Internet Kit - suggests a development tool. But in fact it's a group of programs on a CD-ROM that is downloaded from a user's PC to the handheld via Palm's HotSync feature. With the software installed, users of the Palm III and Palm V devices can connect to a cellular phone, via infrared ports on both devices or a short cable, and use the phone as a wireless modem to connect with Palm.Net services and applications.
Palm users don't surf the Web as they do with a desktop PC. Instead, Palm.net uses a technology called "Web clipping," that essentially translates existing HTML pages into a new page, or form, designed for the handheld's small screen.
Palm yesterday announced that 25 new companies, for a total of 37, are now displaying some 400 applications on Palm.net.
Palm will be expanding its Internet offerings this fall with a new portal built around the AnyDay Internet calendar software that Palm acquired in May. The portal's services will tie in with the key applications on the Palm handheld, such as scheduling, contact information and e-mail. Palm users will be able to synchronize these applications with the Web-based AnyDay software, which in turn can work with enterprise-based calendar applications such as Microsoft Corp. Outlook or Lotus Development Corp. Organizer.
The Mobile Internet Kit will be available later this summer for under $50.
In another announcement, Palm said it is adding an expansion card feature to Palm handhelds and modifying PalmOS, the core Palm software. These moves will make it easier for application developers to outfit Palm devices with, and use, plug-in cards and devices for reading electronic books, playing audio files and making wireless connections, for example.
Palm is basing both moves on the Secure Digital (SD) Memory Card, a format about the size of a large postage stamp that will be available initially in 32M-byte and 64M-byte capacities. By contrast, the better known CompactFlash cards are about the size of a matchbook and currently have even larger capacities. The SD card was originally developed last year by Matsushita Electric Ltd. (which offers the Panasonic-brand products), SanDisk and Toshiba.
The card includes encryption technology and protection for copyrighted data.
The SD card will let Palm users transfer large amounts of data between Palm devices, as well as between the handheld and either PCs or corporate servers.
"For enterprise customers, it lets you distribute applications securely [to Palm handhelds] throughout the enterprise," said Alan Kessler, Palm's chief operating officer for platform and products. "You can plug it in, and databases and applications [on the card] appear instantly on your screen."
At the same time, the changes to the PalmOS will let application developers support other expansion options besides SD, Kessler said. Future versions of the software will work with Sony Corp.'s MemoryStick technology, CompactFlash, Handspring's Springboard plug-in modules, and various external expansion options. Today, Palm devices support only serial and infrared interfaces. Palm executives gave no date for when the new expansion capabilities would be available.