These are the first new releases since the division of Palm's brands into the Tungsten and Zire families last September. Tungstens are aimed at corporate users, and the family currently comprises two models: the Tungsten T, a Palm OS 5.0 device with built-in Bluetooth, and the Tungsten W, which runs Palm OS 4.1 and has integrated voice and data telephony capability. The W model has yet to surface in the UK, but we expect to see it at some point. The consumer-focussed Zire family has only one member right now -- an ultra-low-cost device with minimal specifications.
The new Zire 71 is a considerable step up from the original entry-level Zire. Featuring a colour screen, 16MB of RAM and the same 144MHz OMAP processor as the Tungsten T, it puts the 2MB mono-screened 16MHz Dragonball-driven Zire in the shade. Palm anticipates that the real eye-catcher will be the Zire 71's built-in digital camera, which captures still images at 160 by 120, 320 by 240 or 640 by 480 pixels. Not surprisingly given its improved specification, the Zire 71 is rather more expensive than the original £88.99 (inc. VAT) Zire, and is expected to cost around £249 (inc. VAT).
The Tungsten C, which is expected to sell for around £399 (inc. VAT), is a premium device. The operating system is Palm OS 5.2, and the processor -- in a new departure for Palm -- is a 400MHz Intel XScale chip. The Tungsten C also features built-in 802.11b wireless networking and comes with 64MB of RAM, taking a Palm over 16MB for the first time. The hardware includes an SD card slot for additional data storage. Like the Tungsten W, this new device has a small keypad in place of a Graffiti area.
Divide and rule?
This dual product launch emphasises Palm's strategic view of the handheld market as comprising consumer and professional users, and providing products targeted at each sector. Other hardware manufacturers might push at particular markets, but generally seem happy to accept purchases from any quarter. They certainly aren't prescriptive about who should buy what product. And in any case, it's widely recognised that a single individual might use their handheld in both a professional and a personal capacity. Where this is the case, Palm may cause trouble for itself by suggesting -- albeit with a relatively light-fingered touch -- that users should be in one or other, but not both, camps. Will Palm cost itself sales with its strategy? Time will tell. Still, the Tungsten and Zire brands seem here to stay, and the older m-series and 5-series devices are therefore likely to disappear. This leaves Palm with a range comprising the Zire, Zire 71, Tungsten T, Tungsten W and Tungsten C, forming a sequence of steps on the functionality ladder. A product to bridge the large price gap between the two Zires would even out these steps, and give Palm a well rounded hardware suite.