Here's a Palm for Your Parents

The new Palm m100 offers a cheaper, colorful personal digital assistant that even your folks could use.

Scheduled to be available later in August priced at $US149, the Palm m100 features a new design with a rounder shape and removable faceplates that come in colors such as "blue mist" and "ruby pearl." A hinged flip cover and a durable display make the device rugged, while an alarm clock and a scribble notepad replace business tools such as expense tracking and e-mail.

With a new design and tools focused on ease of use, the m100 has the home user in mind. The question is whether home users really want a Palm. Palms have been hugely successful with business people, but it's still undetermined whether the rest of us will use fancy digital organizers.

"Oops" Protection Added

For Walkman-like sturdiness, the m100 replaces the glass digitizer--the part of the display that responds to touch--with a plastic one, says Claudia Romanini, director of market and development services for Palm's consumer markets group.

"The digitizer is usually what breaks on a Palm."

The fragile flip cover used on Palm IIIs is replaced with one that flips all the way back and houses the stylus, Romanini says.

The m100 comes with a gray faceplate, but you can purchase other colors for about $US10 each. A new clock application has a travel alarm and lets you view the time even when the Palm is off, through a glass window on the flip cover.

One of the ways to enter text into a Palm is to use a Palm-recognizable shorthand called graffiti. Even Palm-experienced business users can find graffiti tricky and tedious. The Palm m100 adds a touchscreen notepad application so that you can scribble a phone number without fumbling with graffiti or a keypad.

Also bundled with the m100 is AvantGo, a browser service for getting synchronized Web content onto your Palm, and Palm Desktop software for the Macintosh. Instead of a HotSync cradle, the m100 comes with a HotSync cable.

The cradle is a $US29.95 accessory.

In Search of Newbies

Last week, Palm unveiled the prototype of a Claudia Schiffer edition Palm Vx device due to ship this fall. Add the m100, Palm's first new design since the Palm V, and it's obvious Palm is looking to put fun in a handheld. But isn't that what Handspring set out to do with its colorful Visors?

"With Claudia Schiffer and these models, Palm may be competing with its own partner," says Jill House, a senior analyst at IDC. Still, as a move into the lower-cost realm to draw new customers, the m100 is a great low-end device, she adds.

One drawback: The m100 has a smaller screen, which House sees as an odd choice for a product aimed at people not accustomed to using small computing devices.

And then there's the question of which consumers will really use even a low-priced Palm.

"I don't see a huge market opportunity for massive penetration into the homemakers segment," House says. "But there are other consumers Palm can attack like the education market and dads."

Boosting Memory for Wireless

Microsoft, promoting the Pocket PC line powered by the updated Windows CE operating system, still maintains that its higher priced models offer more features for consumers.

"Palm doesn't offer consumer functionality [like music and ClearType for reading books]--just a consumer price point," says Phil Holden, director of Microsoft's mobile devices division. "It'll be interesting to see what the market decides."

Palm is also announcing a new wireless device this week. Scheduled to be available in August for $US449, the Palm VIIx boosts the memory of the wireless VII from 2MB to 8MB. It ships with Palm OS 3.5 and 25 new Web clipping applications. Meanwhile, the Palm VII drops from $SU449 to $US399.

Adding memory to the VII is a logical bump as Palm figures out its new wireless strategy, House says. You need more memory for more applications.

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