Palm unveils Bluetooth card, alliances

Palm Inc. this week announced the U.S. availability of a Bluetooth interface card that will let the latest Palm handhelds use the short-range radio technology to connect to similarly equipped printers, handhelds and cell phones.

The company also announced a marketing deal with Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications AB. The two companies will create a package that includes the new card, the Palm m515 colour handheld, and the Sony Ericsson T68 cell phone, which runs on GSM and GPRS networks. The package will be available through carriers. Cingular Wireless has already announced plans to offer the T68 and the Palm Bluetooth interface so that subscribers can access a set of enterprise data applications, such as Cingular’s Xpress Mail and My Wireless Window portal.

The announcements were made at the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association’s CTIA Wireless 2002 conference this week in Orlando, Fla.

Both moves are targeted at business travellers and users. Many enterprises have standardized on Palm devices, and many users also have a cell phone. “We now believe there’s quite a large market for a ‘two-piece solution,'” a PDA connecting via Bluetooth to a cell phone, which then becomes the PDA’s modem, says Tim Roper, Palm’s executive director for business development.

Bluetooth has a typical range of about 30 feet. It’s intended as a low-power, cheap replacement for the wires and cables used to connect devices together today. Palm has tested the new card with Palm m500 and m505 handhelds, with access points from Bluetooth Pico and Red-M, with the Hewlett-Packard 995c printer, and both the Sony Ericsson T68 and Motorola 270 cell phones.

The Palm Bluetooth Card, jointly developed with Toshiba, is a Secure Digital (SD) card, about the size of a postage stamp, which plugs into the SD expansion slot found in the newer Palm devices. The software loads, and an application guides the user through the process of finding and connecting to other Bluetooth devices, including LAN access points.

Palm has integrated the Bluetooth interface with Palm OS applications such as Palm Dialer. Users can connect via Bluetooth to the T68 phone, then dial a phone number from the Palm’s contact list using the Palm’s touchpad, set up speed-dial preferences and review call histories.

The suggested retail price of the interface is US$129, and it can be bought online at

The card carries two sample applications: Blueboard, which lets up to four users share scribbled notes and diagrams; and BlueChat, a private messaging and chat application. Palm executives promoted Bluetooth at the recent PalmSource users conference, and they say plenty of developers are building a new generation of applications to exploit the Bluetooth wireless link. An example would be a program that can check the calendar on each of a half-dozen Palm devices, and schedule a next meeting for the users.

Palm seems to have focused on the carriers and service providers as the main engine for promoting Bluetooth usage. “We talk with them and show them what they can do – get more data through their GPRS pipe, do Short Message Service messaging and so on,” says Palm’s Roper. “[With our Bluetooth products] we increase wireless usage on the carrier’s net.”