Wireless Palms challenge web phones

Pocket PC may be Microsoft's attempt to take on Palm, but the wireless Palm's bigger challenge may be Web-enabled phones.

What's more, Palm is looking at some phone-like functions: The company is developing Palm Communicator, a Palm device that will access mobile phone networks and integrate voice communications with Palm's personal digital functions.

All Palms, including existing units, will get wireless functions, says Carl Yankowski, Palm chief executive.

"We'll make all Palms forward and backward wirelessly connected to the Internet by the end of this year," Yankowski says. Current models may gain that capability through add-ons. All Palms will use Web clipping technology to display content.

"When we enable wireless Internet access, the same applications that run on the Palm VII will run exactly the same on all Palms," says Alan Kessler, Palm chief operating officer for platform and products.

The executives wouldn't give details about Communicator or describe its appearance, but Yankowski says it is unlike the Qualcomm PDQ.

When you get a call, the device will identify the caller from your address book, or even add the address, Kessler says. "You can say you don't want to take the call, and it sends it to voice mail."

This year, you'll be able to connect a Palm to the Internet through a mobile phone or a snap-on accessory like the OmniSky wireless modem for the Palm V. But as WAP (wireless application protocol) and smart phones appear, will we be willing to carry two devices? Palm is betting on it.

"The user experience is fundamentally different (on a phone versus a Palm)," Kessler says. "Some applications are great for a WAP browser, but sometimes you need a larger screen or you want color. There's not going to be one answer."

Phones aren't competition, but an added market, Palm executives say. Nokia and Motorola have licensed the Palm operating system for smart phone devices.

It's like the convergence of TV and PC, says Barry Cottle, Palm's chief operating officer of wireless Internet solutions. "The difference is how the consumer uses it." When technologies merge, some people will want a single device, and others will opt for two, he adds.

Palm wireless services focus on localised content, Cottle says. Through Palm.net, Palm VII users can check on flight status at Travelocity, buy a book on Amazon, or get directions to the nearest Starbucks coffee shop.

As all Palms become wireless, Palm.net will evolve into MyPalm.net, a custom portal with wireless services, Cottle says. "When you buy a plane ticket, the flight information will immediately go into your Palm calendar."

Palm.net and Palm.com will also direct you to Palm applications and add-ons.

"We're the most expandable handheld with over 100 hardware attachments," Yankowski says. And Palm is trying to make it easier for you to get them.

Pocket PCs also have wireless aspirations, plus a built-in Web browser. You can download Palm browsers, but Palm executives say Web clipping is better.

"We have Web browsers and support WAP, but in a narrowband world, you don't want to browse the Internet really wirelessly," Kessler says.

As Palm expands the Palm.net service beyond the Palm VII to all Palms, the company hopes developers will have more reason to produce Web clipping applications.

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