Palm-based phone to hit Europe this summer

Palm licensee Handspring plays catch-up with Microsoft and Symbian PDA/phone developers

Handheld computer maker Handspring said yesterday that it will launch its hotly-anticipated mobile phone device, VisorPhone, for the European market by summer.

The announcement comes close on the heels of Microsoft's first demonstrations of its Stinger device, which also combines the capabilities of a personal organiser with a mobile phone. Stinger is expected to be available by the end of the year.

VisorPhone debuted in the US market at the end of last year, but Handspring only recently decided what configuration to use for the GSM version. GSM is the mobile standard used in most markets outside the US.

The VisorPhone will work at the 900MHz and 1800MHz GSM frequencies. The module clips onto the back of a Handspring Visor organiser, turning the device into a mobile phone and also allowing wireless Web browsing, email and chat. The phone can also send SMS text messages and access the contact information stored on a user's SIM card.

The module is about the size of a mobile phone battery with an antenna, and charges through the Visor's synchronisation cradle.

Three different platforms are jockeying for dominance in the emerging market for smartphones, which combine computer and wireless functions. Visor, which uses the popular operating system from Palm Computing, will face stiff competition from the Symbian alliance, which includes most of the big mobile phone handset manfacturers, and from Microsoft, which is signing up manufacturers such as Samsung and Sagem around its PocketPC and Stinger platforms.

Ericsson has already released a Symbian device, and Nokia plans to release the first full-colour Symbian product this spring. Devices based on Microsoft's platform are expected by summer.

Microsoft has said it sees Stinger as direct competition for Handspring and Palm products, but Handspring says it will wait and see. "I'm sure [Stinger] will be a great product, but we're not worried," said a Handspring representative. "Visor is selling quite well."

Handspring made the announcement at GSM World Congress in Cannes, France, which runs through the end of the week.

Take me to the Mobile Technology Special

Have your say instantly, and see what others have said. Click on the TalkBack button and go to the ZDNet News forum.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom. And read what others have said.