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Palm Handhelds Equipped with Improved Features, Services

As expected, Palm Inc. Monday launched its two newest handheld computers -- the monochrome m500 and color m505 -- to target the steadily expanding number of users expected to shell out $400 to $500 for quality products that house their personal information.

Rest assured, the market is growing. IDC Research, which pays close attention to mobile devices, believes the total number of shipped handheld computers will grow to 33.6 million in 2004, more than double the 2001 estimate of 14.9 million.

At a quarter of a pound, the m500 handheld is scheduled to be available for an estimated $399 in late April. The m505 is scheduled to be available in in May for about $449. Some features Palm took care to tout would deign to make its new products more wearable and wireless-capable when stacked up against such competing products as Handspring's just-launched Quick Visor, Compaq Computer Corp.'s iPAQ Pocket PC, and Sony Corp.'s new CLIE handheld, which is based on Palm technology.

These features include a Secure Digital (SD) and MultiMediaCard expansion slot about the size of a postage stamp, a new Universal Connector for hardware add-on modules and Internet connectivity software.

These new Palm features, Goldman Sachs said in a recent research report that analyzed impacts the evolving Palm product lines could have on gross margin and average selling price figures, are an attempt to give the m500 series gross margins a lift; GS believes the m500 will enjoy a 30 percent gross margin, with a 40 percent gross margin garnered by the m505.

Palm's expansion slot offers plug-and-play use of the industry's smallest expansion formats: SD and MultiMediaCard media. The expansion cards, which range from 8 megabytes (MB) to 256 MB, can be carried and inserted in the expansion slot for instant access to applications, data storage, images, and video clips. SD, in particular, is used widely -- more than 200 companies, including Panasonic, Toshiba and SanDisk, support the SD card standard for use in their products.

Byron Connell, vice president of product management and planning at Palm Inc., said corralling SD and MultiMediaCard technology for his company's new handhelds was a no-brainer; like many original equipment manufacturers, Palm is keen on honing its products' form factors and boosting their memory capacities to meet the evolving needs of consumers.

"Users can now easily carry additional memory, video clips, images, applications, games, backup capability and more," Connell said.

The SD format also supports input/output (SDIO) connectivity for manufacturers to miniaturize their technologies to create modules for scanners, radios, modems, cameras and MP3 players. Toshiba and Panasonic are two OEM's which plan to create SDIO cards using technologies such as Bluetooth, the much-ballyhooed short-range wireless standard.

Arthur Matsumoto, vice president of planning at Panasonic's North American headquarters, Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, lauded Palm's endorsement of SDA.

"We expect that the launch of these new SD-capable Palm handhelds will be a major step forward for the SD format as a whole," Matsumoto said.

Accompanying the small, yet jazzed-up memory slots in the m500 is Palm's new Universal Connector, a connector and attachment methodology expected to become ubiquitous in future Palm handhelds. The Universal Connector will allow developers to create common hardware peripherals, such as wireless modems, cameras, GPS receivers and MP3 players.

And that is just the hardware. Palm has also embedded Palm Mobile Connectivity software in the new PDAs, which are geared to allow customers to connect to the Internet and manage e-mail and Short Messaging Service (SMS) virtually anytime, anywhere using a compatible modem or mobile phone. The software includes Web clipping technology, which makes it possible for a user to check out the goings-on at such popular destinations ABC News, ESPN or CBS Marketwatch, while commuting to work on a bus or train.

Palm has also embarked on myriad partnerships with some of the largest product makers and service providers in the online business. In the U.S., m500 and m505 are fitted with America Online Inc. for the Palm OS. IBM Corp, too, is banking on the m500; it based its pending new versions of WorkPad on the Palm product.

But perhaps the most discernible bonus among users' quests for value-added products and services include the following apps available for the m500 series. These are targeted for anyone from the casual user to the "executive road warrior," according to Palm.

These partnerships include:

  • DataViz Documents To Go 3.0 -- Enables users to view and edit Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and other document types
  • MGI PhotoSuite Mobile Edition -- Users can view and share images and video clips
  • Infinity Softworks powerOne Personal calculator -- Users can perform advanced math and business functions
  • AvantGo -- Provides wireless and offline access from a handheld to content and applications on the Web
  • Chapura PocketMirror 3.02 -- Synchronizes with Microsoft Outlook calendar, contacts, tasks and notes
  • Macronix -- offers read-only MultiMediaCard media for the Palm m500 series handheld computers
  • Novatel Wireless Minstrel m500 -- a series of wireless handheld modems for the Palm m500 series
  • Portsmith Inc. -- offers the Portsmith Ethernet cradle for the Palm m500 and m505
  • SanDisk Corp. -- is supplying Palm with Secure Digital (SD) flash memory cards for the Palm m500 series handhelds
  • Socket Communications -- Digital Phone Connection makes it easy to attach a Palm m500 or m505 handheld to a mobile phone for wireless applications such as e-mail, Web browsing, e-commerce and remote access to corporate data
  • Shinei -- offers i-Vox for the Palm m500 and Palm m505 handhelds, from Shinei International; gives people an easy-to-use voice recorder with 99-message or eight-minute recording capability so they can make reminders, phone numbers, driving directions or notes to self

Lastly, the m500 comes with Palm Reader, allowing consumers to read electronic books on their Palm's. This capability was accompanied Monday by Palm's purchase of peanutpress.com, an eBook content provider for handhelds. Financial terms of this deal were not made public.

Assets of the deal include a growing list of 2,000 titles from major U.S. publishing houses and the Peanut Reader eBook reader application. Peanut Reader and peanutpress.com will be called Palm Reader software and Palm Digital Media, respectively. Palm Digital Media, which will become a group within Palm, will retain the 17 peanutpress.com employees and remain in Maynard, Mass.

With the Palm Reader app, users can download best-selling novels and reference manuals from peanutpress.com in minutes.

Mike Lorion, vice president of Vertical Markets for Palm said an amalgamation of leisure readers, business professionals honing job skills, commuters catching up on the Wall Street Journal, or students can benefit from being able to carry reading materials in a device that weighs only ounces and also manages the rest of their information.

To be sure, some research firms are bullish on the prospects of eBooks. A December 2000 Forrester report found that digital delivery of custom-printed books, textbooks and eBooks will account for revenues of $7.8 billion -- 17.5 percent of publishing industry revenues -- in the next five years.