With the PDA market lagging for the first time in its brief history, Handspring has developed an entirely new class of product combining cellphone, Visor and "Blackberry" type messaging service in a package about 30 percent smaller than a standard PDA.
Not to be left behind, Palm is offering a new sled of the Palm V and Vx that allows the handheld to receive always-on, forwarding e-mail like the Blackberry.
The Handspring Treo Communicator 180 and 180G appear markedly different from the company's Visor product. They are about 30 percent smaller with a flip top featuring a see-through plastic screen, similar to those found on many cellphones.
But the most striking difference is the 180's small keyboard, the first ever to appear on a Handspring product. The keyboard is a dead ringer for the Blackberry's and with good reason, said Joe Sipher, Handspring's vice president of product marketing. The 180 is intended to be primarily a communications device, not an organizer or PDA, although it retains all that functionality.
Essentially the 180, and 180G, which drops the keyboard but retains the familiar Visor touch screen, can act as a cellphone or a handheld computer with wireless Internet access and allow text messaging. Both have 16MB of memory.
Sipher said eventually single-function PDAs will fade away, with those products being replaced by all-in-one devices like the Treo. This is several years down the road, but the logic of being able to replace a cellphone, PDA and messaging device with one, much less expensive product is compelling, he said.
"We think the keyboard is better for most people and allows for easy one-hand operation, but we wanted to bring out a model for those already familiar with the Graffiti," Sipher said.
The suggested retail price for both models is $399, while the service charges will vary. The system most likely to be in place when the units ship early next year will have consumers pay for data transfer by the megabyte. At launch Handspring will limit distribution to retailers that already carry cellphones, said Sipher, because these stores already have relationships with the cellular service providers.
The 180 has the traditional four buttons across the bottom with the left handling phone functions, the next for PIM, the third for Web browsing and the far right for messaging. In addition, two small up and down scroll buttons were installed in the center of these buttons.
AT&T and Cingular with be the first two carriers supplying service, but Handspring is working with others. Since there are several competing standards for data delivery that require adding these other carriers will take some time, Sipher said.
Handspring will add a third version in mid-2002 that features a color touch screen.
From Palm is the MobileModem, to be offered this fall through corporate channels will allow users to respond to emails from their Palm. Suggested retail price for the MobileModem is expected to be $179 after an introductory rebate plus $49.95 per month.
Motient, currently runs a nationwide wireless service for Research in Motion (RIM) and sells the Blackberry email device.