At the National Educational Computing Conference (NECC) in San Antonio this week, TX. Palm Inc. and AlphaSmart Inc., a new Palm OS licensee, unveiled a new hardware product-the “first alternative laptop device running the Palm operating system,” Palm spokesperson Kathleen Dixon told MacCentral.

Palm Digital Media, a publisher and distributor of eBooks for handheld computers, announced today at a press conference that AlphaSmart, a provider of technology resources for education, has licensed the Palm Reader eBook application to include with their Dana product. Dana is a Palm OS-based portable computing solution for education that combines the “convenience and affordability of a Palm powered handheld with the ergonomics of a lightweight laptop,” according to Mike Segroves, director of business development at Palm Digital Media.

The inclusion of Palm Reader on the Dana device is an extension of AlphSmart’s licensing agreement with PalmSource that was announced last August. Palm Digital Media is a business unit of PalmSource, the Palm OS subisidiary of Palm Inc.

“AlphaSmart joins Palm as the second Palm OS licensee to bundle Palm Reader with its computing solutions,” Segroves said. “It’s exciting to have a well-respected education technology company embrace eBook technology. Education is a market where we expect to see significant growth over the next few years as textbook publishers begin to make eTextbooks available.”

He added that over 5,000 eBooks are currently available for download. The newly modified version of Palm Reader takes advantage of Dana’s widescreen format, allowing more content to be displayed at one time. Dana users can create and distribute their own Palm Reader eBooks using the Palm eBook Studio authoring tool.

The Studio lets users create eBooks from scratch or cut and paste information into the Palm eBook Studio from existing documents that support Rich Text Format. The application offers a choice of font styles, type sizes and formatting options for customizing eBooks. Palm eBook Studio is available now for purchase and download at an introductory price of US$29.95 through Aug. 19. After that, it’s $39.95.

Also at the press conference, David Nagel, CEO of PalmSource, the Palm OS subsidiary of Palm, talked about what PalmSource is doing in the education area to support innovation by licensees and third party developers. Mike Lorion, vice president of education (and former Apple exec), announced Palm’s involvement with a statewide professional development program, and showed a couple of the brand new products being introduced at NECC.

Nagel said to expect broader choices in mobile products for education as Palm OS platform licensees, such as AlphaSmart, bring new products to market. He also cited recent news from the IDC research firm that shows the trend toward mobility building quickly. In a May 30 press release, IDC said, “the K-12 market is moving from desktop personal computers toward notebook computers and smart handheld devices, a shift expected to rapidly accelerate at the start of the 2003-2004 academic year.”

“Palm OS products are going to be an important part of the education computing continuum because they offer education cost-effective, sophisticated mobile tools that make a computer for every student and teacher possible. Today we’re showcasing the versatility of Palm powered products with new applications from some of the top education developers.”

As for that statewide professional development program, Palm handhelds will become a part of Integrating Strategies and Technology in Education Practice’s (InSTEP’s) program to provide educators with skills and strategies to help them teach in student-centred, high-technology classrooms.