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Wireless Phones, PDAs Trade Places During PCIA Show

Chicago — Like employees of undercapitalized web startups caught in a wave of downsizing, wireless phones and PDAs are taking on additional job responsibilities.

During the PCIA GlobalXChange show, vendors consolidated multiple portable devices into one device, with more wireless phones taking on PDA functionality while Handspring’s Visor PDA gained wireless voice and data capabilities.

The developments included Handspring’s introduction of the first-ever add-on module that turns a Visor, Visor Deluxe, or Visor Solo PDA into a wireless phone, whose touchscreen simplifies the use of advanced phone features. Companies such as Glenayre, GoAmerica, Omnisky, and Tellus, meanwhile, unveiled two-way wireless-messaging modules that let Visors receive wireless messages and e-mail and, in some cases, wirelessly access the web.

For its part, Palm said a GSM-phone attachment for the Palm V is due early next year from Real Vision, complementing an available two-way messaging attachment that operates on CDPD (cellular digital packet data) networks.

In merging PDA and phone functionality into a single device, Kyocera and Motorola approached their mission from another direction. Both companies announced plans to incorporate the Palm operating system into new wireless phones. Kyocera will announce availability of its model, intended to replace a larger model, in November and will ship it “shortly thereafter,” a spokesman said. The company showed the phone to attendees who signed NDAs, which TWICE doesn’t sign.

Motorola said it’s targeting the first quarter of 2002 to deliver its Palm-based phone. As previously announced, Motorola still plans late 2001 deliveries of a combination PDA/phone based on Psion’s Epoc OS.

In other PDA- and data-related developments at the show:

— Advanced phones debuted without the Palm or Epoc OSs but with personal information manager (PIM) functions that synchronize with popular desktop PIM programs (see story, this page).

–Bluetooth-equipped product debuted (see story, this page).

Here are the details of some of the key PDA-related developments at the show:

Glenayre: The company announced plans to bundle a Visor with an @@ctiveLink two-way wireless-messaging module at suggested retails up to $449.

Glenayre is selling the bundle to two-way messaging carriers Metrocall and SkyTel for their respective networks. In addition, Glenayre has begun making the SkyTel-network bundle available through the Palmgear web site, where it’s priced at $429. In October, will offer the MetroCall-network bundle.

SkyTel confirmed that it has already begun selling the bundle at $449 through its web site and through its direct-sales team to businesses. Sales through SkyTel retailers will begin at the end of the fourth quarter.

Glenayre president Eric Doggett said Metrocall sales through retail will also begin in time for Christmas. Metrocall sells through 120 MetroCall retail stores, 670 AT&T Wireless stores, other retail locations, and a direct-sales staff. Additional details were unavailable.

Next year, Glenayre plans to offer CDMA and GSM modules for Palm-OS devices, and though “data will be central,” the devices will also allow voice calls, Doggett said.

Those modules and the current ones are also intended to complement the company’s planned unified messaging service that will redirect faxes to a wireless device and turn enterprise- or telco-offered voice-mail messages into text messages for delivery to wireless devices.

Handspring: The VisorPhone GSM module for the Visor PDA is intended mainly to make advanced phone features easier to use, Handspring founder Jeff Hawkins said during a presentation. Those features include composing and viewing SMS messages, programming and deleting speed-dial numbers, viewing call history lists, and setting up conference calls.

The 2.9-ounce 1.9GHz module delivers 3 hours of talk time or 72 hours of standby time on its internal lithium-ion battery. It will be sold through the company’s web site in November or December at $299 if a customer signs up for a service plan from VoiceStream, Pacific Bell Wireless, Powertel, and BellSouth Mobility. Without service plan, it will cost $499.

Probably in early 2001, the VisorPhone will be available to carriers and retailers, a spokesman said.

The module has three control buttons, antenna, and a speaker for listening to incoming callers. Users speak into a microphone already built into the Visor. A hands-free headset lets users access applications while holding a wireless conversation.

Two of the control buttons bring up an SMS message list and a 50-number speed-dial list. Users can also dial through a virtual on-screen keypad or direct from the Visor’s address book. Any incoming call with caller ID number attached will be checked against the address book to display the caller’s name.

The module also supports 14.4kbps data.

Also for the Visor, Santa Clara startup AirPrime displayed a CDMA voice/data module to be available on an OEM basis sometime next year, Handspring said.

Omnisky: The wireless ASP said it will begin later this year, perhaps by the end of October, to market a CDPD (cellular digital packet data) radiomodem for the Visor. Made by Novatel, the radiomodem at a suggested $299 (minus a $150 credit for signing a 12-month service agreement). It will be bundled with Omnisky service, which delivers wireless access to any HTML site and reformats the web pages for small-screen displays.

Kyocera: The first Kyocera-branded phone to incorporate the Palm OS will be a CDMA trimode that will also carry the Palm name. It will replace the Qualcomm pdQ, which features the Palm III OS and was part of the Qualcomm handset business recently purchased by Kyocera. Sprint sells the pdQ at $799.

The new model will be the company’s first phone to display only the Kyocera brand instead of the Qualcomm/Kyocera co-brand. It will also carry the Palm Powered logo.

The phone will be “significantly” lighter and smaller than the 10-ounce pdQ yet feature a larger screen, offer “improved usability,” and incorporate security enhancements to support mobile e-commerce applications, the company said. It will use “current versions” of the Palm OS, a spokesman said without elaboration.

Like the pdQ, it features a wireless HTML browser that strips out graphics.

Motorola: The company’s Palm-based phone will be co-branded with the Palm and Motorola names “so users of Palm devices will feel familiar” with the product, said Leif Soderberg, senior VP of strategy and business development for Motorola’s personal communications sector.

The phone will be a triband model operating on GSM networks in the U.S. and other countries. The company, however, hasn’t determined whether the Q1 2002 launch will be a worldwide launch or a regional launch that might exclude the U.S. Motorola also hasn’t identified the regions in which it will launch the Epoc phone.

It will feature GPRS (general packet radio service) packet-data technology to send and receive data at throughput up to 56kbps at a minimum, Soderberg said. The product will use whatever version of the Palm OS is current at launch time. It will feature a color screen and will wirelessly access HTML sites.

Applications will be written to provide “seamless integration” between phone and PDA functions, Soderberg said. For example, when a user receives a message that contains a phone number, the user will be able to dial the number by touching it.

Palm: A GSM add-on for the Palm V is due early next year from Real Vision to allow for circuit-switched two-way messaging and, via a headphone, voice communication, Palm said. The company is also focusing on supporting the development of a CDMA add-on due at an undisclosed time.