Handheld Giants Battle for TECHXNY Spotlight

NEW YORK — The dogfight in the handheld computing space extended to the halls of the Javits Center Tuesday with a slew of corporate partnership announcements from Palm Inc. and the release of a new Web browser from Handspring Inc.

While the two competitors battled for attention, it was Palm’s CEO Carl Yankowski who stole the TECHXNY spotlight with a keynote address touting his company’s B2B strategy and announcing deals with Panasonic, PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and Extended Systems Inc.

Prior to the release of Palm’s fourth quarter results Tuesday — the company reported a net loss of about $89.2 million or 16 cents per share (analysts had been expecting a loss of 20 cents per share) — Yankowski unveiled a high-profile corporate partnerships with Panasonic aimed at accelerating consumer and enterprise acceptance of the Secure Digital (SD) memory and Input/Output (SDIO) card standards.

He also revealed that Palm and accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers had struck a deal to market the company’s handhelds to PwC clients. Yankowski said the two companies would develop and market solutions based on Palm branded handheld computers.

Touting the importance of incorporating handheld technology into existing IT systems, Yankowski issues a call for enterprises to move swiftly to ensure return on investment and to empower mobile workforces.

And, in a surprise move, Yankowski invited Extended Systems Inc. CEO Steve Simpson to join him onstage to announce a deal for Palm to resell Extended Systems’ XTNDConnect Server Software as a Palm branded product.

“We’re married in a new way,” Yankowski laughed, referring to the merger between Palm and Extended Systems which was cancelled last month.

The partnership with Extended Systems would allow the marketing of a Palm branded synchronization service.

“The companies will promote the server-based synchronization solution to developers, which will spawn greater application development for deployment of handheld solutions, including the Palm family of handhelds, within enterprises,” Yankowski added.

Not to be outshone, Palm’s chief rival Handspring Inc. was also busy at the trade show, unveiling a new version of its Blazer browser for Palm OS handhelds.

Handspring plans to bundle Blazer at no additional change with its VisorPhone as part of new Wireless Internet Access Suite, which runs wireless e-mail, Web browsing and messaging.

Handspring said the new Blazer rollout would enable owners of PDAs to access virtually any site on the Internet. It also supports color graphics, personalization and bookmarks.

While most handheld Web browsers allows visits to Web sites specifically designed for mobile access, Handspring said Blazer supports all major existing standards, optimizing HTML, WAP and cHTML content for viewing on handheld display.

The company said the Blazer browser would be available to users of Palm OS-based handhelds for $19.95, through software distribution partners Handango and Palmgear.

Though they’re the top two handheld makers, Palm and Handspring weren’t the only firms to show off wireless wares at TECHXNY. Sony Tuesday bowed new CLIE personal entertainment organizers with the introduction of the PEG-N610C and PEG-S320 models for the U.S. market. The PEG-N610C handheld features a high-resolution color display with a competitive price of about $400. The monochrome PEG-S320 model will sell in the $200 ballpark.

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