Palm, Handspring Bring Competition To Data Phones

Two handheld computer companies, Palm Inc. and Handspring Inc., have been slugging it out in the marketplace as they attempt to outdo each other by adding features to their Palm Pilot and Visor products. But they've recently moved the competition to an old battleground: voice-enabled phones.

Handspring has unveiled its VisorPhone Springboard expansion module, which connects directly into a Visor handheld to allow the device to be used as a standard phone. At the same time, Palm says it has formed a partnership with cell-phone manufacturer Motorola Inc. to combine the two companies' technology to produce a tri-band Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) wireless smart phone, which is slated to be available at the beginning of 2002. Analysts believe the two voice-enabled data phones will compete eventually, but time to market is the issue for Palm and Motorola.

"They're not going to have it until 2002, so give me a break," says Ken Dulaney, Gartner VP of mobile computing. "By the time 2002 comes around, it's going to be a totally different landscape."

With the VisorPhone Springboard expansion module, the Handspring Visor operates as a GSM phone, which restricts its use to the U.S. market. It's available only from the company's Web site and is priced at $299, with a service contract. A 900- to 1800-MHz phone that can be used globally will be released early next year, says Greg Shirai, a Handspring manager.

But Dulaney says the data capabilities of the VisorPhone are lacking. "There are all these features in your cell phone that you never use because they are buried four or five levels down in the phone. What the Handspring system does is make that easier to use since it changes, based on what you are doing," Dulaney says. "But the modem is just generic data transfer like you can do with any device, and that's no big deal. You need the analogy of Wireless Application Protocol browsing on a Handspring device, and they don't offer that."

Palm and Motorola hope to create a mobile device that will include Palm's HotSync software and wireless synchronization, using Motorola's Starfish TrueSync software. The product will also be compatible with General Packet Radio Services technology, which is still under development, to deliver wireless speeds of 140 to 160 Kbits of data, says Gavin Bourne, director of business development for the Palm Platform group. "That's going to enable a lot of the multimedia applications that people have been talking about for some time."

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