NEW YORK, N.Y. - At PC Expo, the Palm family gained another member as Sony officially debuted a Palm-OS prototype. 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 MultiMediaCard (MMC) in the future, according to the company.
Bryon Connell, Palm VP for the consumer markets group said Palm chose the SD format because its 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," said Connell, noting that the next-generation Palm should be even slimmer than the Palm V due to improvements in manufacturing and battery technology. 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. Further 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 hotsync file back-up 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.
At the Handspring booth were several modems for the Visor, as well as a GPS module and FM radio. The new wireless modems included Novatel's wireless Ministrel S CDPD modem, which will ship in the third quarter. It will come bundled with JP System's One-Touch Mail, AvantGO, a web browser and will be available in 2 and 4MB flash memory versions at a price in the $269 range. Glynayre also showed a wireless modem for the Handspring Visor using two-way paging to allow email 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 to be announced when it launches in August. Pricing is also expected to 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 email message delivery as well as realtime 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-Raydio. 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 which is unique in that it 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. Four new cities are being released including San Francisco, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C. 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.