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Palm, Handspring wireless PDAs debut on Web

For once, leaks are official

Palm and Handspring have both had their wireless PDA plans made public. Details of Palm's i705 - the successor to the VII family - and Handspring's Treo k180 and g180 have been posted on the Federal Communications Commission's Web site as part of the process both companies must undertake to get their devices approved for wireless use.

The i705 - better known, perhaps, by its codename, Skywalker - sports a built-in antenna and maintains an always-on Net connection, battery power permitting. LEDs show the status of the connection.

It checks email automatically, through a 'Deluxe' update to Palm's MultiMail app. It accesses Palm-formatted Web sites through the company's Web clipping technology, but we expect it will ship will a WAP reader and AvantGo's browser for other Web sites.

Email and Net connectivity buttons appear on the i705's front panel (instead of the To-do List and Memo Pad buttons). Like all new Palms these days, the i705 will contain an SD card slot and the Universal Connector add-on port.

Handspring's Treo family appear to aimed more at the smartphone market than the wireless PDA territory Palm is stalking with the i705.

The Treo k180 (codenamed Manhattan) is essentially a PalmOS-based alternative to RIM's popular Blackberry device - hence the inclusion of a keypad in place of the usual Graffiti character entry panel. The Treo g180 (codenamed Shea) does, however, offer standard Graffiti input.

Both machines can operate as GSM mobile phones, and include SIM slots. They will ship with an SMS app and Handspring's Blazer Web browser. There's an email app, apparently, but unlike the i705 the Handspring's are assuming occasional use of these features. As we say, they're more about bringing PDA functionality to cellphones than bringing always-on Net access to the PDA.

Palm clearly believes that users will keep a cellphone for voice communications and a PDA for personal data and Net access. Handspring would seem to think that users will want all these applications in a single unit. With the cellphone market in the doldrums right now - witness the financial trouble over at Motorola, Nokia and Ericsson; the latter is even merging its cellphone operation with Sony's - we wonder if the Palm approach is the better one in the short-term.

Then again, smartphones may be just what the cellphone market needs to revive sales. Even so, Handspring will have a hard time selling against established brands like those mentioned above. For that reason, it might be looking to licence the Treo design rather than produce and sell them itself.

The lack of Handspring's differentiating Springboard add-in slots on the new devices suggest at the very least a focus on the cellphone market rather than the PDA biz and possibly a licensing angle too. Cellphones are about more features in less space, not expandability. ®

Related Links

Palm Infocenter: Palm i705 pics
PDA Buzz: Handspring Treo pics

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