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PalmSource Sees Blue Skies With Cobalt

Sunnyvale, Calif. — PalmSource’s new Cobalt OS, expected to appear sometime this year in PDAs, will speed up PDA makers’ time to market, entice more hardware companies to adopt the Palm OS, and ‘create new classes of mobile devices,’ product marketing manager John Cook said.

Cobalt, described as a ‘total rewrite’ of the Palm OS, the OS integrates software modules that support more key functions ‘out of the box’ than previous Palm OS, he explained. Integrated support includes Bluetooth 1.1, multiple languages, Outlook syncing, multitasking, simultaneous wireless communications sessions, ADPCM/PCM, and MPEG-1, -3 and -4.

‘Previously, licensed hardware companies made the modules on a custom basis, but now we do the integration,’ he said.

The integration will speed time to market, attract more hardware suppliers to the Palm OS, and entice suppliers to introduce a greater variety of models targeted to users with specific interests, such as wireless messaging or music listening, the company said.

PalmSource said Cobalt will also help the company solidify its already commanding market-share lead in the handheld market. In 2003, 78 percent of the PDAs sold through retailers, excluding wireless PDA-phones, were Palm-based, Cook said in citing NPD statistics. Palm’s share of enterprise sales was 55 percent in 2002 and 2003, he said in citing Mindwave Research.

PalmSource expects additional share gains with:

  • Garnet, an OS5 upgrade said by Cook to target entry-level and mainstream users. Garnet PDAs will also be out later this year.
  • An outreach program to promote consumer awareness of the more than 20,000 applications available from the developer community to add functionality beyond personal information management.

PalmSource shipped Cobalt to hardware licensees in December and will deliver it this month to the developer community. Garnet ships in February to hardware licensees and developers.

With Cobalt, PalmSource is integrating support for multiple new standard features, including multitasking and multithreading, a status bar that runs along the bottom of the screen, and a text-input area that now appears on the LCD screen. The input area can be made to disappear from the screen, opening up addition LCD surface area to display applications and data.

Also built-in is the ability to change fonts and text sizes, a tab format for PIM data, enabling users to switch between a person’s personal, work, home or office entries without scrolling down through multiple lines of data. Finally, a ‘pluggable communications framework’ enabling users to engage in multiple simultaneous wireless-communications sessions, such as cellular voice and short message service (SMS) messaging.

Like Garnet, Cobalt also includes ‘wireless as a core feature,’ Cook said. Supported wireless standards include Bluetooth, 802.11, and cellular. ‘It’s easier to plug future wireless standards into Cobalt,’ he added.

Despite Cobalt’s new features, said Cook, the OS ‘preserves the simplicity, flexibility and backward compatibility’ of previous Palm OSs.

Unlike Microsoft, PalmSource doesn’t need to come out with one OS for wireless PDA-phones and a separate smartphone OS intended for small-screen voice-centric phones, Cook said. ‘With our OS, we can be on a very small candy-bar phone because we are more efficient in battery life, RAM, and screen support,’ he contended.

To further enhance Palm PDA marketability, the company has embarked on an outreach program to inform potential purchasers about the 20,000 applications available for the Palm OS. ‘Most users buy them [Palm PDAs] for the PIM functions and then find out applications are available,’ said strategic marketing VP Michael Mace. ‘We’re missing the majority of customers because not everyone needs a PIM.’

As a result, the company is touring vertical publications, special-interest web sites, and conferences and stepping up on-line marketing activities, including the on-line publication of expert guides written by enthusiasts about the applications available for their particular profession or vocation.