Palm VII offers info on the go

The next-generation handheld computer from 3Com Corp.’s Palm Computing Division will allow people to send and receive e-mail and snippets of on-line information, according to the company.

The Palm VII organizer, expected to start shipping late this year, will have the same form factor as its Palm predecessors but will include a wireless modem and a flip-up antenna.

But 3Com doesn’t view the Palm VII as competition to Windows CE-based handheld PCs, said Joe Sipher, 3Com’s director of wireless products. Handheld PCs have keyboards, run miniature applications and provide users with full access to the Internet, while Palm devices are more like personal organizers. E-mail functionality was included in the Palm VII for short, mission-critical messages, he added.

“The device is too small (for long e-mails) and there’s no keyboard,” Sipher explained during a Webcast from Santa Clara, Calif. Instead, Sipher expects the e-mail capability will be treated in a manner similar to a cellular phone.

“Most people don’t give their cell phone to everyone — they give it to a few key people who need to get a hold of you.”

Users will also be able to get important Internet information on the Palm VII through Web clipping, a new technology developed by Palm Computing. Web clipping is a means of excerpting specific information from a Web site, eliminating the need to sift through irrelevant information, according to Sipher. For example, users will be able to immediately obtain flight times between two particular cities on an airline site, he added.

In the United States, companies such as TicketMaster and MasterCard have signed up to have content available for Web clipping via the Palm VII. Canadian content providers will be jumping on board as well, said Nick Tidd, director of Canadian sales for 3Com Canada. The idea is to have a broad range of international content relevant to business users, he added.

3Com will team up with wireless network provider Rogers Cantel in order to provide Internet access to the device. Data is compressed through a 3Com data centre to Cantel’s Mobitex network, and service for the on-line information is expected to cost $20 per month.

The Palm VII device itself is expected to cost less than $1,200, almost double the price of a Palm III. But some observers are singing the praises of the technology and see the Palm VII attracting a different type of user.

“[3Com] already has the consumer market and now they’re pushing into the corporate market,” said Dave Armitage, research analyst at Evans Research Corp. in Toronto.

Analyst Alan Reiter at Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing in Chevy Chase, Md., said Palm’s announcement shows that wireless computing is “ready for prime time,” especially atop Microsoft Corp.’s announcement to create Wireless Knowledge LLC, a wireless service company with Qualcomm Inc.

Growing acceptance of wireless computing will force network managers to develop company policies to restrict personal use and cut costly airtime, which usually is based on the number of characters sent in a data message, analysts predicted.

One IT manager, Andrew Palms at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, said he already contracts for pager service at a flat rate for unlimited usage and is in the midst of setting usage policies. Palms said a “wireless Palm would be great” for the times he is locked in a meeting and needs to send a question to a staff member outside.

Palm products, including the PalmPilot Professional and the Palm III, currently have 63 per cent of handheld market share, according to Dataquest Inc., a market research firm in San Jose, Calif.

According to Ken Dulaney, vice-president of mobile computing at Gartner Group Inc. in San Jose, Calif., the Palm VII will give the PalmSize PC form factor, initiated by Microsoft Corp., a run for its money.

“If you use a PalmSize PC, the good news is you get Windows. But the bad news is that you get Windows and crappy software that’s in a small form,” he said.

“The wireless access on the Palm VII is innovative and is designed specifically for that device. People who buy [Palm products] are still using it 18 months later, while the Windows CE devices are thrown in a drawer somewhere because they aren’t simple to use.”

Current Palm devices can’t be upgraded to the Palm VII, 3Com Canada’s Tidd said, noting that the Palm family jumps from Palm III to the Palm VII to leave room for other Palm devices that may be released in the interim.

Field trials for the Palm VII start next summer in Canada but have already commenced south of the border. 3Com Canada in Toronto can be reached at (416) 498-3266 or