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Palm Launches i705 Handheld

After months of delays and uncertainty, Palm Monday launched its i705 wireless handheld device.

The introduction of the long-anticipated device, which will provide always-on e-mail and Web access, is another indication that handheld vendors are moving away from primarily providing personal information management functions and toward wireless connectivity.

Handspring is about to launch its Palm OS-based Treo device that will provide voice capabilities as well as Web browsing and e-mail access. Executives for that company have said that, in the long run, all Handspring devices will be wireless.

The new Palm device doesn't have built-in support for voice. Rather, it competes more directly with Research In Motion's (RIM's) BlackBerry handheld devices, which gained popularity in recent years because of their always-on access to e-mail.

The Palm device can fetch e-mail from corporate e-mail systems as well as automatically receive e-mail from as many as eight separate user accounts. Like RIM devices, the Palm device uses a desktop component that directs e-mail from the PC to the handheld via wireless transmission.

A fuller enterprise solution that includes a messaging server, will go into beta testing next month, Palm said.

It also will include text messaging in the form of AOL Instant Messenger. Other AOL services built into the device are will provide local content and the AOL Moviefone service.

Wireless capabilities aside, the i705 handheld has similar specs to Palm's other high-end handhelds. It comes with 8MB of RAM, is based on version 4.1 of the Palm OS and has a 33MHz Motorola Dragonball VZ processor. It weighs less than six ounces and comes with a rechargeable lithium polymer batter and connects to desktop computers via the USB port. Like other higher-end Palm handhelds, it supports expansion via Secure Disk and MultiMediaCard expansion technology.

Palm said it was aiming the device primarily at enterprise users.

"The freedom to travel while remaining connected to e-mail and messaging is a key competitive advantage for people and companies," said Todd Bradley, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Palm's Solutions Group.

Users can be notified of in-coming mail by an LED, a sound or vibration. To simplify input of e-mail messages, Palm said it would make available a mini-keyboard that slips over the bottom of the device and provides for "thumb typing." The keyboard will cost $59.95.

The release of the i705 comes after a tumultuous period for the handheld industry and for Palm in particular. In the last year, its handhelds lost significant market share to devices based on Microsoft's Pocket PC platform as well as to Handspring, which uses the Palm OS. However, while the market share of Palm, Handspring and Sony, which also uses the Palm OS in its devices, has slipped somewhat, those devices combined still represent around 80 percent of all handheld sales, according to most market studies.

At one point last year, as Palm faced mounting financial difficulties, it indefinitely postponed the release of the i705. Little information about the device has leaked out since then prior to Monday's announcement.

Among the surprises is the device's $449 estimated street price, which is about $150 less than that of the Treo and is competitive with the RIM devices. In addition, users must purchase a wireless service plan via the Palm.Net service. Those plans are based on usage and start at $19.95 per month for 100Kb of data.

Palm said that the messaging server, when it is available, will cost $2,499 for 25 client licenses with additional licenses available at $49 each.

The i705 isn't Palm's first wireless devices. Two years ago it released the Palm VII and, later, the Palm VIIx handhelds. As with the Palm VII handhelds, the i705 uses a Mobitex wireless system that connects at current-generation speeds. The wireless system is provided by Cingular Wireless.

Neither Palm nor Cingular would comment when faster service would be available for the i705.

David Haskin is managing editor of allnetDevices.com.