Handspring Unveils Phone/PDA Combo

Expanding beyond the recently moribund handheld niche, Handspring Monday unveiled a new family of wireless devices that combine handheld and wireless phone capabilities and outlined its future product directions.

The company’s new Treo 180 series of devices will be based on the Palm OS, as are its handhelds, the company announced. The two initial models will be identical except that one, the Treo 180, will have a tiny keyboard while the Treo 180g will use Graffiti handwriting recognition for input. The devices also will support Short Message Service (SMS) text messaging.

The devices are expected to be released early next year and will cost $399 when purchased with wireless service and $549 when purchased without the service, according to Lisa Best, product line manager for Handspring. By contrast, similar devices from Kyocera and Samsung based on the Palm OS cost about $100 more.

The devices will be software upgradeable and Best said she expected the company to release patches by the middle of 2002 that will add support for next-generation GPRS service. When GPRS support is released, the devices will feature “push,” or always-on e-mail services, according to Best. She also said the company would release a version of the devices for CDMA systems in roughly the same timeframe.

In addition, the company said it expects to release support for POP3 and server-based enterprise e-mail products such as Microsoft Exchange next spring.

The products initially should help Handspring more in Europe, where GSM is widely adopted. Currently, GSM is used only in small pockets of the U.S. by carriers such as AT&T Wireless, Cingular and Voicestream. However, AT&T is in the process of implementing nationwide GSM/GPRS service.

The device will be 4.3 by 2.7 by .7 inches, which is only slightly smaller than current Handspring Visors, and it will weigh 5.4 ounces. It will have 16MB of RAM, will use a Dragonball 33MHz processor, which is used on high-end Palm devices and will sport a grayscale screen. Best said, however, that a color version is under development and will be released next year and will cost $599 when purchased with wireless service activation.

The Treo devices will have a rechargeable lithium ion battery that will support 2.5 hours of talk time and 60 hours of standby time. They will not have expansion capabilities while all the company’s handhelds have an expansion slot that supports its proprietary Springboard format.

One Springboard add-on module is the VisorPhone, which adds wireless capabilities to existing Visors. Those add-ons, however, have not been particularly successful in the marketplace and Handspring has drastically cut their prices. However, Best said that those modules will continue to be sold and that the company does not believe that the new Treos will cannibalize sales from the Visor handhelds.

“We’ll still sell Visorphone because it’s a different product for a different audience,” she said. “We don’t think Treo will cannibalize (Visors) at this point.” She did say, though that several years in the future, most mobile devices will have combined telephone, PDA functionality.

As with handhelds, the Treo devices will have four buttons on the front. However, while one of the buttons will display the calendar, the other three will have different functions than those currently found on the handhelds. Specifically, one of the three other buttons will put the device into telephone mode, another will display the device’s browser and the third will put the device into SMS mode.

The device will use its proprietary Blazer Web browser, which it also has been licensing to other vendors.

Best said that the company is releasing a version with a keyboard because it believes that a significant portion of the market wants one.

“Jeff Hawkins felt strongly about the keyboard, and he invented Graffiti,” she said. Hawkins was one of the initial developers of Palm handhelds and is a co-founder of Handspring.

David Haskin is managing editor of sister site allNetDevices.com.

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