Motorola to ramp wireless comms after Starfish buy

Motorola has announced plans to buy Starfish Software. The acquisition could accelerate development of wireless handheld devices in the enterprise.

Starfish created TrueSync: software that synchronises data between Franklin Electronic Publishers' Rex credit card-sized PDA and PCs. From early in 1999, Motorola plans to use Starfish software to link future phone and smart phone products to various information sources.

In a statement, Motorola said it planned to "create a new generation of wireless devices that exchange information with each other as well as with a wide array of information sources, including PCs, the Internet and wireless service providers." Such devices won't only be conventional PDAs but also hybrid communications/computing devices like smart phones and pagers. With Nokia and Ericsson , Motorola is a member of the fledgling Symbian joint venture to create smart phones based on Psion's EPOC operating system.

"It's very exciting," said Tim Ives, sales and marketing manager at Franklin, which claims to have sold about 10,000 units of the Rex in three months in the UK. "Motorola is pretty sorted out in mobile communications and Starfish has got software for data communications and [personal information manager] functions. This is definitely the way forward for communications and handheld products."

However, Ives believes the progress of hybrid computing/communications devices won't be the end of the road for dedicated PDAs - at least in the consumer market. "Corporates wanted mobile data in very small packages and now they want communications in there, but there'll always be a market for handheld data banks," he said.

It won't be the first time Motorola has tried its hand in handheld devices. The firm was a backer of Apple's Newton project and used the Newton OS in its own ill-fated Envoy product.

Financial terms of the Starfish purchase were not disclosed. Four-year-old Starfish's chairman and CEO is Philippe Kahn, the charismatic former boss of Borland.