Palm Bows OS 5 Web Browser

With the split of its software division from its hardware division in its final stages, Palm is gearing up on both sides for a fall season filled with a slough of OS 5-related product releases, which investors and analysts will be watching closely.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company’s software division, PalmSource, Tuesday began the flurry, announcing the shipment of its new Web browser to Palm OS licensees. With the new product, the company is hoping to bring greater functionality to what has traditionally been a disappointing handheld web-browsing experience.

“This new browser is an important component of PalmSource’s efforts going forward, especially as it goes to ship operating system 5,” said Alex Slawsby, an analyst at IDC. “One component is that OS 5 needs to establish itself as the dominant handheld device platform, but also as a preferred platform for high functionality mobile products, and a Web browser is obviously a big component to it.”

PalmSource’s new Web browser provides upgrades in security, speed and graphics capability.

On the security side, users will see transactions conducted via a Secure Socket Layer . Additionally, because the browser is proxy-less, the user’s information does not reside on a server and instead the connection is made directly from the wireless device to the Internet.

Behind the browser is an ARM processor and technology from ACCESS, which the company hopes will bring a new level of browsing functionality to Palm OS 5 users.

The company believes that the ARM processors, which replace the Motorola 68K architecture, will provide faster Web access in most cases, while the built-in ability to disable the download of images and JavaScript will improve download time for those using slower connections.

“ARM based processors right now have rather significant performance benefits over other architectures that compete in the same area,” said Slawsby. “Going with ARM will give Palm-based devices a significant boost in performance over the previous versions of the product, which will give a wide range of improvements.

Among the improvements expected from the new architecture, Slawsby cites raw processing performance, display capability, the quickness of the interface, quicker strong encryption and video playback.

The company hopes that the release of its browser will spur business, which has consistently been losing share to its competitors.

“We have seen a rapid growth in the number of mobile Internet users and believe that with improved Web browsing capability, we will attract an even larger audience for wireless handhelds and smart phones,” said Steve
Sakoman, chief product officer of PalmSource, Inc.

Palm’s push here is high stakes, as they vie for what Media Metrix predicts to be nearly 10 million active Internet users in the United States using the Internet via mobile phones and handhelds.

“As more and more devices become wirelessly connected either directly to the Internet or through other devices, browsing the Web will become a more important and desired component of the user devices experience,” said Slawsby.

As Palm tries to reestablish itself as monarch of the handheld market, as it was when the devices began to surface in the ’90s, the improvements in the new browser may help. The enhancements are widely seen as bringing more parity with battle Visor’s Blazer browser, among other competitors, as well tightening the technological gap between the more advanced Window’s CE .Net.

“It pretty much gets palm up to par with the top vendors in the industry, with the exception on Window’s CE .Net,” said Slawsby, acknowledging Microsoft’s browser is aimed for a slightly different market, with Pocket PCs running at a higher functionality, as well as a higher price point.

The heat of the battle will continue to build up over the next several months, as Palm ships its OS 5 displays its new fall line.

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