Palm Family Expands At PC Expo

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NEW YORK -- At PC Expo, the Palm family gained another member as Sony officially rolled out a Palm-OS device. Palm Inc. also announced it would join its two licensees, Sony and Handspring, in offering removable flash memory expansion slots, with Palm choosing the postage stamp-sized Secure Digital (SD) format.

The company said it would begin offering SD card slots in next-generation Palm handhelds due in the first half of 2001. This marks a departure from its other licensees, as Sony is using Memory stick removable media and Handspring uses the proprietary Springboard format. However, any Palm OS product will be able to support SD as well as Multi Media Card (MMC) in the future, according to the company.

Bryon Connell, Palm VP for the consumer markets group, said Palm chose the SD format because of its postage stamp size, high capacity and low price. It's small size "is in keeping with our mission to create the most wearable products -- unconsciously portable -- as we can," Connell said, noting that the next-generation Palm should be even slimmer than the Palm V, due to manufacturing and battery technology improvements.

Another benefit of SD, which is backward compatible with MMC, is that it is expected to support Bluetooth in the near future, Connell said.

Sony kicked off its much anticipated re-entry into the PDA market at PC Expo with a prototype Palm-based PDA with a slimline form factor and a unique jog dial on the side for one-handed scrolling. The product is expected to be available in five colors and will incorporate Memory Stick. More information should be released by the fall when the product is expected to begin shipping.

Among the unique third-party solutions for the Palm at PC Expo was an MP3 device that doubles as a storage add-on to the Palm. Called the PocketPyro, the unit uses 64MB SD/MMC, which can store an hour of MP3 recordings, and can double as a standalone MP3 player with fast forward, rewind and pause buttons. It can also act as additional hard-disc storage for the Palm with manual copying of files, although automatic hot-sync file backup is expected to be available shortly after the product ships at the end of August.

Also, in the future, PocketPryo will offer speech recognition to allow voice operation commands. The unit is expected to carry a price of $299.

Several modems for the Visor, as well as a GPS module and FM radio were shown. The new wireless modems included Novatel's Ministrel S CDPD modem, which will ship in the third quarter. It will come bundled with JP System's One-Touch Mail, AvantGO, and a Web browser, and will be available in 2MB and 4MB flash memory versions at a price in the $269 range.

Glynayre also showed a wireless modem for the Handspring Visor that uses two-way paging to allow e-mail and information access, such as stock quotes and weather. The unit was demonstrated using the SkyTel service, but the company is expected to work with several carriers when it launches in August. Pricing will be announced at that time.

GeoDiscovery showed its Geode GPS module for the Visor. It includes two MMC slots for additional map content and allows map searching, tracking and other location-based applications. It will ship at the end of the summer at a target price of $249.

Also for Handspring is Cue Radio, which allows e-mail message delivery as well as real-time traffic updates, news, weather and personal stock quotes. The product will ship by the end of the summer to Staples and will also be available on Amazon.com and PalmGear.com at an estimated price of $159. News and weather updates will be offered as a free service from Cue Paging with traffic reports at $60 per year and a blanket charge of $15 for 100 messages or stock quotes over any time period.

Shinei also showed an FM radio module for the Visor called My-Radio. It allows preset tuning and other user-selectable features via the Visor, and it comes with a headset. Shipping is planned for September at a price to be announced.

Another notable new product for the Palm OS is Vindigo, one of the first in-depth city map programs that is aimed at users who live within the city rather than tourists. The company launched its first city map (for New York) on March 27 and now claims 60,000 users. Map programs for San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C., also are being released.

Vindigo allows users to choose any street intersection and then view the restaurants, nightlife or other points of interest near that intersection. The program includes more than 2500 restaurants and 1000 nightlife spots, as well as restaurant reviews and directions to the points of interest. It is offered as a free download at Vindigo.com.

Psion also announced, shortly before PC Expo, the release of the first IR wireless 56K modem designed for use with any leading PDA, including Palm-based and Pocket PCs. It is available from the Psion website as well as CompUSA, J&R and online retailers including Amazon.com for $129.

Kessler said there is currently an installed base of 7 million Palm users and that 97 percent of the Palms in use will be compatible with the new Palm Mobile Internet Kit.

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