As Microsoft readies the next version of its operating system for handhelds and portable devices, Palm Computing appears to be readying a new PDA (personal digital assistant) for the back-to-school shopping season.
According to detailed spec sheets that have been leaked to several user Web sites, Palm is to launch a low-end PDA called the m125 at the end of next week, on 24 August. The device will fulfil Palm's promise to bring a standardised connector and expansion slot to its low-end range, making peripherals designed for the more expensive m500 line compatible with the entry-level products.
One source confirmed that the device had been entered into the product database of a major US retailer in preparation for launch.
The m125 appears to be a replacement for the current m100 and m105 products, which offer a lower price and a more rugged design than the m500 range, which is aimed at executives and has a broader range of features -- with a price tag to match. The m125 will cost $250 and besides Palm's standardised Universal Connector and SD expansion slot, will include a 33MHz Dragonball VZ processor, 8MB of RAM memory, and will weigh 6.1oz, according to sources.
US models will feature 2MB of mask ROM and those sold on the international market will have 4MB. Mask ROM, unlike the flash ROM used in more expensive models, cannot be updated, meaning that users won't be able to upgrade the operating system.
The m105 costs $200 in the US, and retails for about £150 in the UK. By contrast, the m505, which features a colour screen, retails for about £359 in the UK.
With the m100 series a year ago, Palm introduced customised face-plates and flip covers, and these will fit the new device, although the m125 will use a different stylus.
The main incentive for users of the older m100 series to upgrade to the new unit, which costs an extra $50, is likely to be the presence of the SD Card expansion slot and standardised connector. Both will allow users to take advantage of an existing array of peripherals.
While Palm's SD cards have so far been used for backup or to store large applications like dictionaries, they can also add hardware capabilities, such as wireless connectivity. Since the standard is used by other manufacturers, the cards can also be used to exchange data, for example between a handheld and a digital camera.
Palm said it would not comment on unannounced products.
Rumours also have it that Handspring, the largest licensee of the Palm operating system, is also readying new handhelds and is preparing to drop prices on the Visor Platinum and Visor Edge on Friday.
The new product arrives as Palm faces an increasingly difficult battle for market share. After dominating the handheld market through its early years, Palm is now losing out to Microsoft Windows CE-based competitors like Compaq Computer in the corporate market. Last week Palm chief executive Carl Yankowski said the company hasn't "been as aggressive as we need to be in terms of marketing" to corporations.
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