Palm Bluetooth card cuts wires

The long-awaited Bluetooth expansion card finally arrives, boosting Palm's wireless strategy for Europe

Palm unveiled its long-awaited Bluetooth expansion card on Thursday at this week's 3GSM World Congress in Cannes, France, along with several applications designed to take advantage of Bluetooth's short-range wireless capabilities.

As previously reported by ZDNet UK, the card is to ship in the UK on 4 March for about £90 ($129), Palm said, with a version for non-English-language countries following in April.

The Bluetooth card was one of the accessories Palm spoke of when it first introduced the Secure Digital/Multimedia Card expansion slot into its handhelds last year, and it is the first accessory to make use of the slot.

Until now only memory expanders were available for expansion slot, which is included in all new Palm models.

Palm and other handheld makers are relying on wireless technologies to increase the popularity of their PDAs, as growth in the PDA market stagnates. Palm, Handspring, HP, Nokia and others have released or are planning PDAs with built-in mobile phone capabilities, but Bluetooth can offer similar functionality by wirelessly connecting a PDA to any Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone.

"With the availability of the Palm Bluetooth Card, we kick off a new era in fluid connectivity in a mobile, wireless world," said Todd Bradley, executive vice president and chief operating officer of Palm's Solutions Group, in a statement.

With the expander, Palm is releasing software for forming Internet connections through a mobile phone, dialling phone numbers directly from the Palm address book and sending short text messages (SMS) from the handheld.

Other new applications will allow business-oriented collaboration between Palm Bluetooth handhelds: BlueChat is a chat client, while BlueBoard shares hand-written notes between Palm clients. The devices can also connect to Bluetooth-enabled PCs to perform wireless synchronisation, and print Microsoft Office documents on Bluetooth-enabled printers.

Some of the hype around Bluetooth has faded in recent months with the growing popularity of other wireless networking technologies, notably wireless LANs. But Bluetooth is expected to be far more pervasive than WLANs, with Cahners In-Stat predicting over one billion Bluetooth-enabled devices in circulation by 2005. the technology is being pushed by mobile phone makers for cable-less connection of peripherals like headsets.

Palm's is not the first expansion device to bring Bluetooth to Palm handhelds; TDK Systems has already released Bluetooth "sleds" for the Palm m- and V-series. But Palm's card is substantially less bulky than the sleds, and the wireless software is new.

The card is also substantially less expensive than alternatives available for competing PDAs. For example, Compaq sells an iPaq with built-in Bluetooth, but the device costs about £120 more than the non-Bluetooth edition. An iPaq Bluetooth jacket costs about £112.

However, analysts say that the Bluetooth card may fall short of mass appeal. The main problem: it takes up the expansion slot while in use, making it impossible to use memory expansion cards or other accessories.

Separate the hype from the reality at ZDNet UK's Bluetooth News Section.

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