Palm adds expansion slot to new handhelds |  Hardware

SAN FRANCISCO -- Palm Inc. unwrapped two new handheld computers Monday, both of which include a small expansion slot that lets users add extra memory and software applications to their devices, and eventually hardware add-ons such as a wireless modem or a digital camera.

The m500, priced at US$399, has a black and white screen and comes with 8M bytes of memory. The m505, priced at $449, has a 16-bit color screen and also includes 8M bytes of memory. Both devices look a lot like the existing Palm V, although the color version is a fraction thicker and weighs slightly more, at 4.4 ounces.

The units come bundled with Palm's Mobile Connectivity Software, which lets users connect to the Web from certain types of mobile phones using a cable connector or the Palm's infrared port. They also include a new type of battery, called lithium polymer, which should add a few days' extra battery life, and a new version of Palm's operating system, version 4.0.

But most notable is the addition of a slot about the size of a postage stamp on top of the devices which accepts a Secure Digital (SD) card. Users can slot an SD card into their Palm when they need extra memory, or to view content that will be sold separately by Palm and its partners.

"We really chose the SD card because of its tiny size, which allowed us to incorporate it into the device without interfering with the elegant design. But it also opens a lot of doors in terms of extending the capabilities of the Palm to include new content and capabilities," said Stephen McDonnell, business development manager with Palm's consumer markets group.

For example, Palm will offer a card for $29.95 that includes 10 computer games, including SimCity and Zap!2016. It will also offer SD cards for travellers that include city guides, a currency converter and a language translator. Priced at $39.95 each, they come in three versions for travellers in the U.S., Europe or Asia Pacific, McDonnell said.

For users who want more storage, Palm will offer a 16M byte expansion card for $49.95 that could be used for storing images or other large files, or by corporate users for storing a large database. Palm is also selling a back-up card for $39.95 that lets users copy the contents of their Palm and then reload it in the event of a system failure.

The company doesn't want to get too deeply into the SD card business, and hopes better-known card manufacturers such as Matsushita Electric Co. Ltd. (better known for its Panasonic brand), Toshiba Corp. and SanDisk Corp. will step up their own production to meet demand from Palm users, McDonnell said.

Palm is also relying on partners to create hardware add-ons that make use of the SD slot to increase the functionality of the Palm, much like Handspring Inc., one of Palm's software licensees, uses Springboard modules to extend the capabilities of its Visor PDA (personal digital assistant).

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