Palm readies colour handhelds

Palm is set to refresh its low-cost and high-end handhelds with better displays and more memory, as the PalmSource conference begins

Palm could unveil two new handheld computers as early as Tuesday, when its developer conference PalmSource is set to begin, according to sources.

Several hobbyist Web sites have reported that Palm is planning to launch a low-cost colour PDA, probably called the m130, and an update to the more expensive m500 series with a significantly brighter colour display. The reports are backed up by other sources. The reports said that the devices are set to hit retail shelves in the US any day now, and PalmSource would be a likely venue to make the announcement. CeBIT, the massive electronics show in Hanover, Germany, is also coming up next month.

The m130 appears to be aimed at the mid-range of the market, for which Palm now offers the relatively low-cost m125. The upcoming device adds a colour screen, but keeps the same form factor and Universal Connector, allowing it to use the snap-on coloured faceplates designed for other m100-series PDAs. The Universal Connector allows peripherals like keyboards and modems to be used with any newer Palm device.

The m515 appears to be an update of the current high-end colour model, the m505. Its main features are a brighter colour screen and 16MB of RAM, up from 8MB with the m505. Palm is also rumoured to be cooking up 16MB and 32MB memory back-up cards.

Another wireless boost is to arrive shortly in the form of Palm's Bluetooth SD card, which will streamline the hardware for creating Bluetooth wireless connections to mobile phones and other devices.

Palm recently released a wireless data-enabled device, the i705, which is an update to the venerable VII series.

HP is said to be developing a wireless-enabled Jornada for the European market, with GSM and GPRS connectivity, for launch later this year. Palm is likely to release such a device in Europe in the autumn, as the i705 relies on US-specific technology.

Palm controls the majority of the world PDA market, with an installed base of 20 million Palm OS-based devices, the company said earlier this week. But Palm's devices, whose selling points are simplicity and ease of use, have faced increasingly stiff competition from rivals like Symbian and Microsoft, which use more complex software and more powerful processors.

"Palm was playing catch-up all of last year in terms of technology," said IDC research analyst Tim Mui. He said that the company has been focussed more on marketing than on its technology, and while this attitude has now changed, Palm devices are still hampered by hardware and software limitations.

Palm is working on a new operating system, Palm OS 5, and plans to sell devices with the new software and more powerful ARM-based processors by this autumn.

"Once they move to ARM, the possibilities of building exciting devices are not so limited," Mui said. He said that despite some advances by Palm OS licensees like Sony and Handspring, "there hasn't been really anything innovative in the Palm OS camp for a few years."


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