Users expecting to take advantage of the new Palm VII's wireless capabilities to sync up their home-office data remotely could be in for a surprise.
Third-party data synchronization software developed for existing Palm devices won't work with the Palm VII, which 3Com Corp.'s Palm Computing division plans to roll out nationally this week.
Palm Computing has not given developers access to the APIs used by the Palm VII's wireless radio, making it impossible to tune their data synchronization applications to work with the radio.
"Technically we could do it," said Tom Hunt, vice president of marketing at Puma Technology Inc., in San Jose, Calif. "We have middleware ready to do it. But they haven't given us access to it."
Palm officials defended the decision not to open up the radio APIs as a necessary move to keep prices for wireless data transfers down.
"Based on the current service pricing model, it's not practical to expect anyone to do synchronization," said May Tsoi, product marketing manager for the Palm VII, in Santa Clara, Calif.
The Palm VII's Mobitex service charges per byte instead of a flat rate for unlimited transfers. Such a model is reasonable for people using the device for basic Web clipping applications, such as checking mail on their Palm.Net accounts or getting stock quotes and sports scores.
More data-heavy applications, however, would send charges up in a hurry. An average synchronization between a handheld device and an office computer transfers between 40KB and 50KB of data, according to Dave Rensin, chief technologist at Riverbed Technologies Inc., a synchronization software company in Vienna, Va.
"If they're charging 30 cents per [kilobyte], that would be a lot [for a full synchronization]," Rensin said. "If they went to [unlimited] pricing, then maybe it would make some sense."
Palm has not committed to making any changes to its pricing model, but Tsoi said the com pany hopes to add other wireless options down the road.
"Mobitex is just one network we currently support right now, but eventually, when we have partnerships with other network vendors, it may make sense then to conduct wireless synchronization," she said.
The lack of synchronization could pose a problem for current Palm customers used to wireless data synchronization using third-party modems. A Palm III with a Novatel Wireless Inc. Minstrel modem attached, for example, can perform data synchronization. In addition, sources say Novatel soon will release a similar modem for the Palm V, in conjunction with the launch of OpenSky, a forthcoming wireless Internet service for handheld devices.
At this point, Rensin doesn't mind not having access to the Palm VII radio because data synchronization over the Mobitex network could pose performance problems.
"Speedwise, it would be a poor user experience," he said. "Palm elected to go with the Mobitex network because of its great coverage, but it's slow and it's expensive."
Palm VII goes national
- Price of the device will be lowered from $599 to $499
- New service plans: $24.99/month for 100KB of data, $39.99/month for 300KB of data and 20 cents per kilobyte for additional data
- Mobitex service covers most of the United States
- No wireless data syncing capabilities
- No unlimited service plan
- Mobitex network is slow