Wireless the future for PDAs: Palm

Talk show host David Letterman not too long ago made a parody of an advertisement by handheld device maker Palm Inc. to make the point about how he loves his Palm handheld.

There sits a woman looking out the window of a train car and a man, in this case Letterman, sits in an adjacent train staring at her. She aims her Palm handheld at his PDA (personal digital assistant) and sends Letterman a message using the device’s infrared transfer capabilities. In the real advertisement, there is a mutual attraction between the woman and the man and she sends him her name and phone number. Letterman is not so fortunate.

“Stop starring at me, freakshow,” Letterman’s Palm screen reads.

“I guess the punch line is ‘Isn’t technology wonderful?,” quipped Carl Yankowski, chief executive officer of Palm, after showing the short parody Thursday to members of the Massachusetts Software and Internet Council during the organization’s annual meeting in Newton, Mass.

The moral of the story may be that Palm handheld devices seem to become more ubiquitous every day. A majority of speech participants raised their hand when asked if they own or use a Palm OS handheld device. All signs for Palm are that the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company is pushing hard to give its customers wireless connectivity for their Palms. Yankowski shared figures from Forrester Research Inc. that suggest 60 per cent of all mobile computing devices will be wirelessly enabled by 2003.

“Our roadmap is becoming increasingly wireless,” he said.

The outlook for Palm is to release version 4.0 of its operating system in a couple of months which will offer greater wireless possibilities. Wireless products that allow e-mail and instant messaging can be expected by the second half of 2001. By 2002, Palm OS 5.0 will be released and it will be completely equipped for multimedia, he said.

Palm has announced an agreement with Sprint Corp. to market and sell wireless technologies for handhelds using the Palm OS platform. Yankowski said Delphi Automotive Systems Corp. is working with Palm to put wireless devices in cars that are voice-enabled and can read and receive e-mail.

The goals for Palm are to “carpet bomb” the world with handheld devices, connect all customers globally to the Internet and collect a recurring revenue stream, he said. The building blocks of Palm’s evolution go from personal information management and later e-mail and instant messaging communication to voice, multimedia and then electronic commerce possibilities.

“The wireless potential is huge here,” Yankowski concluded. “Our vision is pretty simple; we want to put (wireless capabilities) into everyone’s handheld.”

Although much of the IT industry has been hit hard recently by an economic downturn in the U.S., Yankowski said that Palm has weathered the storm so far. Sales were strong during December’s holiday season.

“Knock on wood, we have not been affected,” he said.

Palm can be reached at http://www.palm.com/. The Massachusetts Software and Internet Council, in Boston, is at http://www.msicouncil.org/.

– IDG News Service

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