Opening Your Palms

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - The Palm-compatible Handspring Visor has grabbed attention for its expandability. But its Palm cousins aren't stuck in a rut; several models have software plug-ins, hardware add-ons, and wireless functions in the works.

Palm concedes that Handspring's Springboard is a great platform to expand hardware. But it's too bulky to fit the slim Palm V, says John Cook, Palm's consumer product marketing director. Instead of a Springboard slot, Palm uses the HotSync serial port as the power interface for its snap-on components.

And the Palm user has a growing number of expansion options. Modems are available for the Palm III and the Palm V; a GSM connector kit that supports GSM digital phones from Nokia and Ericsson is out for the Palm V. Foldout portable keyboards are available from third-party developers. Coming soon is the OmniSky wireless modem for Palm V, and an Ethernet cradle for Palm III and V.

"We have more add-ons than Handspring has modules," Cook says. More than 500 companies have Palm accessories, he says.

Palm wants to maintain the trademark simplicity of its devices, while accommodating audio, images, electronic books, and games, Cook says.

The company's priorities are three-fold: the core organizer, communications functions, and infotainment. Upcoming add-ons include a Global Positioning System receiver, voice recorder, and an MP3 player, Cook adds. In April Kodak expects to ship the PalmPix camera, a $179 digital camera that uses the Palm screen as its LCD display.

Software That Grows

At the heart of Palm's expandability is its operating system. More than 50,000 developers are writing Palm OS programs, says Michael Mace, Palm's chief competitive officer. Hundreds of downloadable applications add entertainment and organizer features.

Also, Palm grows more capable through its licensees, Handspring, TRG, and Sony.

Add-in cards are coming to Palm-based devices thanks to TRG, which is developing CompactFlash support for Palm, and Sony with Memory Stick devices.

Mace says those efforts give Palm users more expansion options than Windows CE devices.

Palm has already beaten Windows CE with wireless support. The Palm VII has internal wireless connectivity, and the Palm V will connect to the Web using the OmniSky modem, Cook says.

Palm is also working with third-party developers on wireless messaging services reminiscent of the two-way pager. JP Systems' $49.95 BeamLink add-on adds wireless e-mail and messaging, Cook says.

But wireless access isn't limited to those Palms.

"Every Palm device needs to have a wireless story to it," Cook says. All Palms offer IrDA ports to beam applications and contacts from Palm to Palm. Next comes Bluetooth support.

A wireless protocol that transfers data at up to 1 mbps within 30 feet, Bluetooth will let your Palm connect to the Internet via your mobile phone.

"We're doing everything we can do to have [Bluetooth] this year," Cook says. He expects a third-party Bluetooth snap-on will ship in the second half of 2000.

Then you'll see Bluetooth cards and eventually Bluetooth chips built onto the Palm motherboard, Cook says.

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