Palm prepares for the wireless world

By Ashlee Vance, IDG News Service |  Hardware

Palm Inc. plans to keep pace with wireless technology advancements because pervasive computing could lead the company to turn its handheld devices into everything from cell phones to virtual wallets, a company official said Monday.

Wireless technology will play a key role in Palm's strategy over the next two years, according to Michael Mace, chief competitive officer and vice president of product planing and strategy at Palm. Mace walked reporters through the company's plans over the next few quarters during a news event here.

During the first half of this year, Palm plans to bolster its product lineup with a series of wireless aids to give users more versatile access to some of their favorite applications, he said.

With the release of Palm's operating system 4.0, users will gain access to built-in mobile phone support, as SMS (short message service) client, audible e-mail notification, increased security and support for both USB (universal serial bus) and Bluetooth wireless technologies. Users will be able to use their cell phones as modems and take advantage of the new services, including the ability to write e-mail messages and work with e-mail attachments.

In addition to these services, Palm will introduce a lengthy list of clip-on modems designed for wireless access, Mace said.

In the later half of this year, Palm will take its Bluetooth support one step further. Bluetooth allows for wireless communication between numerous devices over short distances. By the end of this year, using Bluetooth, Palm users will be able to keep their cell phones tucked away in a briefcase, purse or car trunk and use it as a wireless modem to connect their Palms to the Internet.

Palm also plans support for several additional features in the second half of the year, including add-on thumb keyboards for typing, the ability to conduct electronic transactions and higher resolution screens. In addition, Palm will up its multimedia functionality to include better support for sounds, graphics and music, Mace said.

By 2002, Palm will introduce units built on a new chip architecture designed by U.K.-based ARM Ltd. Version 5.0 of Palm's OS built on the ARM technology, should improve device battery life and attract developers familiar with ARM's platform.

All of these planned moves coincide with Palm's aim to keep its core platform focused on what users need as opposed to loading devices with bells and whistles that appeal to niche segments, Mace said. Palm wants to ensure users have simple, quick access to e-mail no matter where they are and that users can take increasing advantage of the transactional and business-related tools delivered via their handhelds.

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