Palm Inc. and Motorola Inc. announced on Monday a plan to develop a phone that puts the heart of a Palm personal digital assistant inside a standard-size mobile phone. A truly conveninent convergence for travelers who could do with carrying one less device.
But don't hold your breath in anticipation. The first Palm-Motorola smartphone won't be available until early 2002, and even then you might have to live in Europe to get one.
The planned Palm-Motorola smartphone will use the Palm operating system, provide access to Web clipping content, and have a color display. Palm and Motorola have not yet determined where the phone will first ship, but the tri-band GSM device will be compatible with the General Packet Radio Service network that's soon expected to roll out in Europe.
Availability aside, the real test for the smartphone will be whether Motorola and Palm can fit a color PDA into something that's as small and battery-efficient as a regular mobile phone.
Remember the PdQ?
Motorola isn't the first handset maker to which Palm has licensed its operating system. Qualcomm's pdQ smartphone, introduced in late 1998, was the first phone to incorporate a Palm OS. But the pdQ is both clunky and expensive--now selling for US$800 from Sprint PCS--and never truly caught on with consumers.
Motorola and Palm say this smartphone will be different.
"It will have a color display that will be slightly bigger than that of a mobile phone, but slightly smaller than a Palm," says Mark Bercow, vice president of strategic alliances and platform development at Palm.
"The product will support Web clipping, so we'll work with carriers to enable content access," he adds.
Besides a color display and Palm applications, the smartphone will include Palm HotSync software, and will allow over-the-air synchronization using Motorola Starfish TrueSync software. Despite all the fillings, Palm and Motorola promise the overall handset will be compact and efficient.
"It's a phone first with Palm capabilities added in," says Liz Altman, senior director of business development and strategic alliances in Motorola's personal networks group.
Palm has left the door open to additional Qualcomm devices as well. Last week Palm licensed its operating system to Kyocera, the company that acquired Qualcomm's phone product line. That announcement, Bercow says, was really just the transfer of the Palm OS license from Qualcomm.
Palm also has plans to add voice capabilities to its own devices. On Friday, Palm announced that a new snap-on attachment from RealVision would enable Palm V and Vx handheld users to make and receive phone calls. The GSM snap-on sled is expected to sell for under $300 early in 2001, but will be available only in Europe and Asia.
Palm and Motorola wouldn't comment on any specific plans to incorporate Motorola voice technologies into Palm-style devices.
However, Bercow says, "you can expect other devices."
Palm is not the only PDA operating system coming to phones. Microsoft and Samsung are developing a smartphone--code-named Stinger--with the Pocket PC operating system. It's due out late next year. Ericsson has announced a smartphone running on Symbian's EPOQ PDA operating system, which is already found in Psion PDAs. It's expected to be available by the end of this year.
Should these new smartphones prove affordable and small enough, they will likely appeal to consumers who want the functionality of a PDA, but don't want to carry around two devices.