Palm Bluetooth coming next month

Palm finally reveals that it will be shipping its long-awaited Bluetooth add-on card in February. But experts say the company will have its work cut out for it just maintaining its position in the PDA market

Struggling handheld computer maker Palm will ship its long-awaited Bluetooth wireless card to UK buyers in mid-February, the company has said.

The company is also attempting to spark consumers' interest with an enigmatic email promising "the newest Palm handheld".

Bluetooth is a short-range wireless technology for connecting PDAs to computers, mobile phones and other devices. It is key to Palm's strategy of moving into wireless, which is considered the future of the handheld computing industry.

Last year, Palm was supposed to release the add-on Bluetooth card, which fits into the Secure Digital expansion slot on its m125, m500 and m505 handhelds. That effort was delayed.

Add-on "sleds" from TDK Systems, the BlueM and Blue5, provide Bluetooth for devices using Palm's Universal Connector -- which includes the same devices that have an SD card slot -- as well as the Palm V series. But the TDK devices, unlike the SD cards, add significantly to the PDA's bulk, and the BlueM must be removed when the PDA is synchronised with a computer.

Palm also plans to build Bluetooth into future devices and this week signed a deal with Broadcom to provide the necessary chips.

The company's wireless strategy will be closely watched this year as it struggles to retain its dominant position. Meta Group earlier this week published a report predicting that Palm will become a marginal player because of its losses to Microsoft in the enterprise market.

"The problem for Palm is that, while most companies are initially deploying PDAs to users for PIM use, they are also looking to the future and determining what other applications might make it to the handheld device," the group wrote in the report.

The delay of the Bluetooth card last year was one of several missteps, including a failed merger with Extended Systems, which hindered Palm's attempts to gain a strong foothold in corporations. Another factor includes the lack of features like multitasking, which have long been included in Microsoft's Windows CE devices.

Compaq Computer has also incorporated Bluetooth into one of its latest iPaq handhelds, which use the Pocket PC operating system from Microsoft.

Palm has announced plans to add a number of wireless technologies into its products by this autumn.

By the end of February, Palm has said, it will announce the successor to the Palm VII, which will offer a sleeker design and always-on access to corporate email. Palm received regulatory approval last year for such a device, known as the i705, but then delayed the product until early this year.

An email sent to Palm newsletter subscribers earlier this week may be a teaser for the integrated wireless device, or for a PDA incorporating Bluetooth. The email simply reads, "All we can say is that the newest Palm handheld is coming. Very soon. Stay tuned for more details."

It is the first time Palm has used such advertising tactics.

However, Palm said last week that the server software needed for behind-the-firewall access won't be available until the March-to-May quarter. Palm also wants to integrate support for 802.11b, the wireless corporate networking standard, as well as for the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) wide-area network standards.

CNET News.com's Ian Fried contributed to this report.

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