Palm Inc is set to make a concerted attack on the high-end device and enterprise space in October with a brace of new wireless-enabled models and greater use of the software from its ThinAirApps acquisition,Tony Cripps writes
The Milpitas, California-based PDA pioneer is also attempting to preserve its consumer market share with an aggressively priced device based on its old architecture.
Although details are thin at present, Palm CEO Todd Bradley told ComputerWire that the new devices will feature novel design attributes care of a former lead designer from Sony Corp's PDA division. This should help improve their attractiveness in a market that has become heavily influenced by fashion since the launch of Compaq's iPaq and Sony's more recent Clie models.
Most interesting is the first handheld built around the new 32-bit Palm OS 5. The device is built around Texas Instruments Inc's OMAP single-chip package for PDAs and smart phones, and will feature integrated Bluetooth wireless connectivity.
Palm told ComputerWire in December that it intended to use TI's OMAP - based on ARM Holdings Plc's chip cores - for next-generation devices with integrated GPRS/GSM phone functionality, rather than the new ARM-based iteration of long-term partner Motorola's DragonBall. That strategy now appears to have been extended to all future Palm devices using OS 5. Bradley said the company has "no plans to do ARM-based Motorola products."
But DragonBall will live on in Palm's other two new designs, both of which will use the established 16-bit Palm OS 4.2. The first of these represents the company's first move into the Palm OS-based smart phone space, which to date has been the preserve of licensees such as Handspring, Kyocera and Samsung.
Bradley said that Palm's smart phone will feature GPRS connectivity for internet access. However, Palm intends the machine to be used principally as a wireless PDA rather than a phone, and has subsequently concentrated on features relevant to this purpose.
Palm's push up the PDA food chain puts it on a collision course with the hordes of expensive devices now available based on Microsoft's rival Pocket PC platform, which are generally perceived to be less consumer oriented than those based on the Palm OS.
However, Palm intends to ward off any high-end ambitions of other Palm OS-based device manufacturers by making greater use of the mobile applications and middleware it acquired with ThinAirApps last December and through its close relationship with IBM to integrate its products with WebSphere and Lotus Domino.
Bradley said the results of these efforts will not be made available to other Palm OS licensees. He said Palm is also planning to reduce its reliance on third-parties such as Extended Systems, which has long supplied the company with connectivity software.
Both high-end devices will come with consummate price tags when they launch worldwide on October 28 with the OS5/OMAP model expected to retail for around 450 pounds ($700) while the GPRS smart phone should sell for around 550 pounds ($850) SIM-free, or less with a contract.
Palm's third new entry, due October 7, is a distinctly low-end device featuring only 2MB of memory but at a bargain price. Palm expects the model to retail for between 75 and 80 pounds ($120), making it about the lowest priced PDA on the market. By comparison, Handspring's Visor Neo, among the cheapest PDAs to date, sells for around 150 pounds ($230) in the UK.
Palm is keeping further details of the new devices, including their names and final pricing, under its hat until they launch.