Palm Upgrades Zire, Tungsten PDAs

By Michael Singer | Posted April 24, 2003
Palm this week unveiled new versions of its consumer and business-oriented handheld computers designed to keep pace with the personal digital assistant market.

The Milpitas, Calif.-based company took the wraps off of its consumer-based Zire 71 and business-savvy Tungsten "C". Both devices operate on Palm OS version 5.2.1 and are designed to undercut the prices and features of similar handhelds from Hewlett-Packard, and Toshiba. The company said its Zire 71 is available in stores now. The "C" is available in limited quantities with a full worldwide launch scheduled for May 5.

For consumers, the $299 Zire 71 includes an internal camera, the ability to playback MP3s or short videos.

"Of the people we surveyed, 29 percent wanted to be able to take pictures and view them on their Palms," Palm senior product manager Raj Boshi said.

The device runs a 144MHz Texas Instruments ARM-based chip and is now controlled by a 5-way navigation joystick for better game-play.

Unlike the original monochrome $99 Zire, the new device sports a color 320 x 320 TFT display, which acts as the viewfinder when the handheld slides open and the camera is activated. The snapshots can be saved within the 16MB of memory (13MB usable) or onto expansion cards that range up to 256MB. Palm says ScanDisk is close to releasing a 1GB card in the next few months. Boshi says photos can be cropped in the machine and downloaded in either JPG or Bitmap file extensions.

For listening to music files and playing movie trailers, the new Zire ships with RealOne Mobile Player and Kinoma's Player and Producer software. The device also supports the standard AVI, MPG and QuickTime video formats and MP3 or RealAudio files.

"C" Stands for Connected
The long-rumored Tungsten "C" is the first Palm to run on an Intel 400MHz XScale PX255 processor.

Palm's new $499 device includes internal 802.11b support and the ability to "hot-sync" using a wireless local area network.

"If I make a change to my calendar, I can make a change over the network," Palm Senior product manager Paul Osborne said.

Similar in design to Palm's wireless Tungsten "W", the "C" targets the professional market with a QWERTY keyboard, Graffiti 2 writing space and the 5-way toggle switch. In addition to the usual calendar and phone info, the Tungsten C has VersaMail 2.5 for its e-mail client as well as DataViz's latest version of its Documents To Go. The software allows users to view and edit Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint compatible documents.

The device also has a proxy-less Web browser supports standard HTML. The Java Script enabled browser also has SSL 3.0 security built in. Osborne says because of the smallish screen, users would have to scroll a little bit to see all of the information.

"Eighty percent of sites work pretty well," Osborne said. "Popup windows not supported and if there are a lot of Flash enabled on the site, it will give an error message telling you that it does not support the page. This is becoming an interesting situation not just for our products but also for any wireless Web-enabled device. Hopefully, it will get more developers to start thinking in terms of designing for smaller viewers.

Osborne says in the near term, the Tungsten series is finding its way into voice over Internet protocol through a partnership with a third-party developer including support for standard private branch exchange (PBX) infrastructures.

The new "C" has also expanded its memory to 64MB, which is a bump up from the standard 16MB in most Palm devices. The company recently announced its operating system would be able to handle up to 128MB for its Palm-powered devices.

"We're really going after certain markets with the 'C'," Osborne said. "Besides our usual business-class users, healthcare, automotive would benefit from something like this as well. We've also worked hard to extend the battery life to give you a full 8-hour day of work on one 1500-amp charge."

As for the Wi-Fi connectivity, Osborne said it was a no-brainer considering 20 to 25 percent of companies Palm surveyed were wirelessly networked within their corporate walls.

"We're basically going to ride that wave," he said.

The "C" also has a standard wireless network sniffer or the user can manually enter the SSID for access to VPNs and other secured hotspots.

Innovating or Keeping Up?
The real battle for Palm seems to be keeping hold on its marketshare.

During the company's last earning's report PalmSource CEO David Nagel said developer support for his division is at an all-time high, numbering upwards of 260,000.

But while the Palm OS still dominates the handheld market in both hardware and software, other players are gaining ground fast.

In November 2002, research from IDC indicated that the Palm OS remained entrenched in the healthcare, education and government vertical markets, but Microsoft's Windows CE/Pocket PC is now the preferred platform for mobility solutions within field sales/service and utilities segments.

Palm has managed to hold onto the 80 percent share it boasted during the December 2001 holiday period, according to retail sales figures compiled by NPD Intelect in December 2002. Palm hailed that result, noting that the 2002 holiday season saw the introduction of lower-priced handhelds and increased promotional spending by licensees of rival operating systems.

With so many players entering the field like Dell Computer and its $199 Axim Pocket PC, as well as cell phones that can take pictures and surf the Web, has Palm managed to speed up its technology just to follow the pack? The company says, no.

"We didn't go with a combination device with Wi-Fi and a camera because when we look at the segmentation of the market ours is the PC installed base who also look at other devices," said Osborne. "We broke that up by PIM users and found good price points for the features they wanted most. Currently, you could by an 802.11 expansion card for your Zire 71 or plug in a Vayo camera into your Tungsten "C", but we only saw only 20 percent of our market asking for such a combination. Perhaps in the future, but for now we didn't want to have that kind of trade-off every time we changed things."

Adapted from internetnews.com.

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