PalmSource Gets Connected

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LAS VEGAS -- PalmSource is looking to move past the PDA, into the market for smart phones and other wireless devices. To that end, the company on Monday introduced the Palm Powered MobileWorld program, which will give mobile operators a greater say in how it develops Palm OS.

The new program should result in more advanced applications for smart phones and other wireless devices, Palm said Monday. The company also announced a new licensee for Palm OS--pager maker Percomm, which plans to make Palm-based pagers and smart phones for the North America market.

Sprint is the inaugural member of the Palm Powered MobileWorld program. Other members include makers of infrastructure software used to deliver mobile services, such as Good Technology, which makes enterprise messaging software, as well as third-party vendors developing Palm applications.

Offering Input

The program will allow Sprint and its peers to have a greater say in how Palm OS is developed. For example, they can propose protocols and APIs that they'd like to see supported, said David Nagel, PalmSource's president and chief executive officer, in a news conference at Comdex show here to announce the initiative.

In addition, mobile operators are wary of deploying new applications on their networks for fear they may degrade service or cause other problems, Nagel said. Working more closely with PalmSource and companies such as Good Technology will allow operators to test and vet applications more thoroughly, which should allow them to deploy a broader variety of Palm applications on their phones, said Jason Guesman, a Sprint PCS director of marketing.

The program acknowledges the growing importance of the wireless industry to the future of Palm-based devices, Nagel said. Of approximately 50 Palm OS devices on the market today, 18 have built-in wireless capabilities. That number will grow in the years ahead, both as a proportion of devices and in absolute terms, he said.

Microsoft has also been buddying up to the wireless industry and is probably Palm's main opponent in providing software for wireless smart devices.

Details on the Devices

Separately, Palm licensee Percomm said it plans to develop Palm-based smart phones, initially for GSM networks and later for CDMA networks. It will also base future pagers for its ReFlex messaging network on Palm's software, said Edmond Fung, Percomm's president and CEO.

He wouldn't say when Percomm plans to introduce the new devices, but said he's keen to get a smart phone on the market quickly. Palm's software will help Percomm keep development costs down, bring new products to market more quickly and support more applications, he said. Its devices currently run on proprietary software developed in-house. About 20,000 applications are available for Palm OS today, PalmSource officials in Las Vegas said.

Analysts for the most part are bullish on devices that combine voice and data services. Tim Bajarin, president of technology consulting company Creative Strategies, said he's a big fan of Handspring's Treo 600, which uses Palm OS and is offered by Sprint, among other carriers.

"It's simplified my life. I used to carry three phones and one or two PDAs, and now I just have [the Treo 600]," he said, speaking on a panel in Las Vegas Sunday about industry trends. "I only wish it had Wi-Fi--and more than likely that will be coming."

Mass Market Appeal?

Another analyst on the panel was less enthusiastic. Comdex attendees aren't typical users, and the industry has yet to produce a combined phone-PDA with true mass market appeal, said Chris Burns, an analyst with Meta Group. "I don't think anyone's built the machine yet that's going to get outside the high-tech community," he said.

A successful device will also play games and digital music files, in a form factor that's small, elegant, and easy to use, he said.

PalmSource also announced on Monday the official opening of its online software store, which was announced two months ago.

(For more Comdex news, check's ongoing coverage of the trade show.)

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