Palm Tweaks Brand Strategy

Personal Digital Assistant manufacturer Palm is aiming to better address the market for handheld computers by rolling out new products rebranded to appeal to different customer segments.

The Milpitas, Calif.-based firm said its two new trademarked product brand names — Tungsten and Zire — would highlight the differences in products tailored to different segments of the PDA market. Previously, Palm products either shared their brand name with their manufacturer, such as the “Palm VII,” or were identified by a more obscure numbering convention — “m500” and “i705.”

Instead, the company said it plans to clearly identify which products are meant for which consumers. Products in the Tungsten family are geared toward professionals and enterprise applications, and include built-in features like always-on e-mail. On the other hand, Zire is focused on more mass-market home users who likely require fewer features.

“What a student or a suburban supermom wants from a handheld is fundamentally different from what an IT manager or a road warrior expects,” said Todd Bradley, president and chief executive officer of Palm Solutions Group. “We’re serious about delivering what matters most to both groups: that’s what Zire and Tungsten are all about.”

The naming scheme extends to handheld-and-software packages as well. The first product slated for release under the new brand hierarchy will be the Tungsten Mobile Information Management Solution, a package offering secure wireless e-mail and groupware suitable for collaboration in a business environment.

The Tungsten MIM offering consists of Palm i705 handhelds and/or m500-series PDAs with a Xircom Wireless LAN Module. The package offers secure, “always-on” wireless access to corporate e-mail and collaboration tools like Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino. The solution also supports access to IMAP4-compliant e-mail systems, 802.11b wireless connectivity, and includes DataViz’s Documents-to-Go, for synchronizing Microsoft Office documents.

The Tungsten MIM offering, which was originally introduced earlier this year as the Palm Wireless Messaging Solution, will be one of the only existing products rebranded under the new naming scheme.

Palm did not announce a Zire product, though it said products under both brands are expected to be available in retail outlets before the holiday season.

Pricing was not disclosed, though sources close to Palm said that the company expects Zire PDAs to retail for under $99. The Zire also is expected to be sold at a wider array of retail outlets, instead of just at consumer electronics and computer stores, where Palm’s products have historically been sold.

The moves come as Palm is seeking to cope with the broad slump in consumer and business technology spending and increasing competition from rival PDAs. The company is expected to post quarterly results Monday evening showing revenue down and wider losses than a year ago.

The rebranding strategy also comes as Palm is looking to gain momentum for the spinout of its software unit, PalmSource, later this year. After the split, Palm’s Product Solutions Group will become the core of the company.

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