Handspring Gains Wireless Web Access

NEW YORK (06/28/2000) - OmniSky Corp. announced at PC Expo on Wednesday that it will extend its wireless data network service to Handspring Inc.'s Visor personal digital assistant through a wireless modem created for the Visor's Springboard expansion slot.

Later this year, Mountain View, California-based Handspring will announce a cellular modem module for the same Springboard expansion slot, according to a source familiar with the company's plans.

The data network service from OmniSky, a Palo Alto, California-based company, will be available this fall for a US$39.95 flat rate for nationwide coverage, according to an OmniSky spokesperson, who said the CDPD network is currently available in 3,000 metropolitan areas in the United States. The service is capable of transmitting data at 19.2Kbps, which is faster than current cellular phone services.

While no pricing was set for the module, it is expected to be priced similarly to the Palm V wireless modem, which is about $300.

The service counts approximately 1,000 sites that are optimized for the Visor and Palm devices. These include Web clipping services, first introduced for the Palm VII, as well as Web sites transcoded from HTML to WML (Wireless Markup Language) using Aether Systems ScoutWeb technology.

In addition, users will be able to link to most non-optimized Web sites, although the quality of the content displayed on the screen will vary from site to site. Currently, the unit cannot access sites requiring Java.

"Java is a great programming language, but there is not a big intersection between handhelds and Java," said Jeff Hawkins, founder of Handspring.

Hawkins also said it is hard for WAP (Wireless Application Protocol)-enabled sites to offer a compelling user experience, but that his company would support any platform that users want. Hawkins went so far as to say Handspring is not tied to producing devices that only run on the Palm OS.

The OmniSky service will allow users to keep up to six e-mail accounts and has an e-mail notification feature. However, unlike the Bell South packet network used by such devices as the RIM pager and handheld products, the Palm operating system is not able to have e-mails pushed down to it automatically.

One industry analyst said Handspring and OminSky deserve credit for their ability to execute, but that the real benefits of wireless data will only come when 3G (third-generation) technology is available.

"The products and services like this are a good demonstration of what will be, but at this point they are demonstration and not a complete solution," said Gerry Purdy, president of Mobile Insights, in Mountain View, California.

InfoWorld Editor at Large Ephraim Schwartz is based in San Francisco.

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