Beaming From Your Palm

Beaming your business card to another Palm is only one of the many things you can do with a handheld's infrared port.

Built into Palms, notebook computers, digital cameras, Windows CE devices, and some printers, infrared ports can transfer data at rates of 4M bits per second using the Infrared Data Association protocol. While Bluetooth wireless technology has received a lot of attention, it is not yet available, and the IrDA Wireless Technology Conference here this week features products that can already help your Palm and other devices talk wire-free.

Available in the Palm series since the Palm III, "IR has been a much bigger hit than we expected," says Michael Lunsford, a senior product manager at Palm Inc.

The Palm's infrared signal has a range of 4 to 36 inches. At the price of a slight battery drain, you can keep your Palm open to receive an IR signal at any time.

Save Trees While you Schmooze

You can beam business cards between Palms by simple keystroke commands or by holding down the address card button, Lunsford says. You can also beam address book records for memos. Using other applications, you can beam an electronic book among Palm devices, chat via Palm, or even send data between a phone and your Palm using IR.

Games like IRChess let you play against another Palm user via IR signals. You can even play IR Pong in real time.

Although Bluetooth radio frequency has a higher range and can transfer data through walls, Lunsford doesn't expect Bluetooth to soon replace IrDA in Palms.

"I see a rosy future for IR-enabled Palms," he says.

For handhelds like Palms, IrDA has the benefit of line-of-sight wireless transfer. If you try to beam a business card via Bluetooth in a room full of Palm users, you must wait for the devices to identify each other.

You can also use IrDA to beam data from your Palm to other devices like mobile phones and printers.

"You could HotSync via your cell phone back to your own computer to get PIM data and e-mail," Lunsford says.

Hewlett-Packard Co. has an IrDA protocol for printing called JetSend. HP portable scanners, Photosmart cameras, and Windows CE Jornadas use the protocol, but it can also be used with Palms and Compaq Aero handhelds. The product maker sets the data transfer rate, and with the Jornada, it's 1M bps, says Patricia Rau, a business development manager at HP.

Easy Wireless Syncing

Most desktop PCs don't have an IrDA port, and serial port IrDA adapters are difficult to set up. An easier alternative is Extended Systems' new XTNDAccess IrDA Universal Serial Bus adapter. Scheduled to ship in February for US$99, the unit provides plug-and-play infrared functions for your Windows 98 desktop PC, says Breton Buckley, regional sales manager at Extended Systems.

"Plug it into the USB port, load the software, and you're ready to go," he says. With it, you can synchronize your Palm or beam images from a digital camera wirelessly to the PC.

The EthIR Switch hub and EthIR Beam access points from Clarinet Systems use IrDA to wirelessly network your devices to the Internet. In March, Clarinet is scheduled to ship a version for home offices priced between $199 and $249.

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