Handspring Launches Visor PDA in Japan

TOKYO (06/14/2000) - Handspring Inc. Wednesday launched for the Japan market a localized version of its multicolored Visor handheld personal digital assistant (PDA), set to go on sale in retail stores in the country Friday.

The localized version of the Visor Deluxe will be available in the same five colors as Visors in the rest of the world, and initially will hit the shelves of three major electronics retail chains, said Handspring Japan KK General Manager Shigeki Komiyama [CQ] in an interview.

"We will initially sell through 50 stores and expand our sales based on production capacity," he said, explaining that the company will take the same step-by-step approach to sales in Japan as it did in the U.S., where it was first offered for sale online, then through selected stores. In Japan, however, the online sales will come later, probably by the end of June, with additional retail chains to follow. Handspring has direct relationships with each of the retail chains and bypasses the distribution channel.

The Visor will sell in retail for 29,800 yen (US$280), the same price as the Palm IIIe machine, but Komiyama was quick to point out the differences: "Theirs has only 2 megabytes of memory and ours has 4 (megabytes). Ours also supports USB (Universal Serial Bus) and it's Mac ready."

Komiyama said the company is not planning to launch its lower-priced Visor in Japan because of the extra memory requirements of the localized operating system and a belief that the price of the Deluxe model is acceptable in the Japanese market.

Going on sale with the Visor will be a selection of the company's plug-in cartridges, called Springboards. All of the cartridges made by Handspring, even those sold overseas, will support Japanese out of the box because the company has been building the capability into its cartridges for the past several months, said William Holtzman [CQ], a vice president for international business with Handspring Inc.

In Japan, Handspring will likely find itself in direct competition for the attention of buyers with companies like Sharp Corp., which makes the leading Zaurus line of PDAs (Personal Digital Assistants), and Casio Computer Co. Ltd., makers of the Cassiopeia line of machines. However, Handspring's Komiyama says those companies are not competitors because their products cannot be connected to personal computers.

"We don't think we compete with Zaurus and (NTT DoCoMo's mobile Internet service) I-mode," he said. "We are focusing on PC users who don't currently use a PDA. Our competitors are maybe low range notebooks and B5-size notebook computers."

Handspring's plans for the mobile Internet market, already a big sector in Japan with 10 million people accessing services through their cellular telephones, are not set yet. The company plans to put on the market by the end of the year a Springboard module that allows users to connect their Visors to cellular telephones with a cable. A wireless module is still under discussion with several cellular operators, said Komiyama.

Handspring Japan, in Tokyo, can be found online at http://www.handspring.co.jp/.

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