Sony Targets Palm with US$400 Clie PDA

Aiming squarely at the bows of Palm Inc., Sony Corp. will unveil later Wednesday launch plans for its new Palm-OS based personal digital assistant (PDA), the Clie.

The product will be available in the U.S. from late September and carries a recommended retail price of US$399 -- exactly the same as Palm's sleek Vx model and its color IIIc model. Despite announcing both color and monochrome versions for Japan, the Clie will debut in the U.S. as a monochrome-only device indicating Sony is aiming more for the style-conscious Palm Vx user. Thanks to Sony's styling many users are likely to find the monochrome version of the Clie, like the Palm Vx, more stylish than the Palm III.

Sony's hardware has little to differentiate it from the Palm Vx. It sports the same 8M bytes of memory and is almost the same size. At around 11.5 centimeters by 7.1 centimeters by 1.5 centimeters, the Clié is 0.8 centimeters narrower and 0.5 centimeters thicker -- and at 4.27 ounces (121 grams), weighs in around 7.5 grams heavier than the Palm Vx.

The largest difference between the two machines is in support for Sony's MemoryStick. While the Palm does not have any slots for media cards, the Clie supports MemoryStick which initially provides a convenient way to expand memory and will, in the future, also act as a connector for a range of yet-to-be-released hardware cards, such as a digital still camera model.

In software too there is little to separate the two machines although the Clie will have more support for digital imaging. With a slot for Sony's MemoryStick memory card, users of the company's digital still cameras will be able to view images directly on the Clie and, unlike the Palm devices, the machine also includes a video viewer. Based on technology from Silicon Valley start-up Generic Media, the software can display images at between four and 10 frames per second.

Explaining the decision to market only the monochrome version in the U.S. market, Sony spokesman Ted Kanno said the company sees strong demand for such products. "In the United States, monochrome is dominant and taking root" in the PDA market, he said.

In Japan, where Palm and other U.S. PDA makers have failed to gain a large market share, Sony will be positioning the Clie as an accessory for the audio-visual or entertainment-conscious consumer while the U.S. market is more focused on its use as a work tool. Sony does not rule out the possibility of marketing the color version in the North American market in the future, he said.

U.S. consumers upset at the lack of a color version can take some consolation in the price. When the device goes on sale in Japan in September it will likely retail for around 55,000 yen (US$520) for the monochrome version and 60,000 yen for the color machine. [See "Sony Unveils Palm-Based PDA," July 13.]The product can be ordered from Wednesday online at http://www.sony.com/clie. A developer's Web site for the device can be found online at http://www.us.sonypdadev.com.

(Editors: A high resolution color image to accompany this story is available under the Sony section of the IDG News Service Image Bank on Lotus Notes or through http://www.idgns.com/.)Sony, in Tokyo, can be contacted at +81-3-5448-2111 or online at http://www.sony.co.jp/.

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