The Palm finds a voice

Soon you'll be able to talk to your Palm handheld via the phone. Palm Inc. is working with SpeechWorks to develop call-in calendar and contact-management applications.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Palm Inc. confirmed late Monday that it has licensed software from SpeechWorks International Inc. to develop a calendar and contact-management application that allows users to access Palm content by telephone.

Palm (palm) is the first handheld-computer manufacturer to make content accessible from other devices such as a mobile phone. Earlier this month, Palm said it would launch a personal digital assistant in Japan during the first half of next year that will be capable of accessing the Internet through the nationwide mobile-telephone network of NTT DoCoMo Inc. The new wireless personal digital assistant will allow users to surf the Internet and handle e-mail.

Palm is also the first handheld-computer maker to license voice-processing technology, which SpeechWorks develops. A number of online and telecommunications companies have already licensed the technology to reach new users.

Two weeks ago, America Online Inc. (aol) acquired voice portal Inc. in a deal estimated to be worth between $100 million and $150 million, in an effort to deliver AOL's content to offline users. Quack uses SpeechWorks' software as its underlying technology. AOL also has a minority stake in SpeechWorks (spwx).

"The dotcom world has really started to see that people aren't always online via visual browsers," says Stuart Patterson, SpeechWorks' CEO.

Palm is working with SpeechWorks to jointly adapt speech-recognition software that will allow Palm users to retrieve and update information stored on their Palm device when they don't have the device with them.

The first application that will be available is a Web-based calendar service developed by Inc., which Palm acquired in May in a stock-and-cash transaction valued at about $80 million.

Users of the AnyDay Web-based calendar will be able to retrieve calendar and contact information from any phone using spoken commands. The service is expected to be available early in the first quarter of 2001.

"We're sticking our toe in the water to learn how consumers and professionals will interact with personal communication over the phone," said Dennis Kelly, Palm's senior director of Internet services. He called the new service "Version 1.0" of Palm's voice initiative: "We want users to have access to their personal information from any type of device."

If the phone-based service is popular with AnyDay's three million registered users, Kelly said, Palm plans to make all Palm-compatible applications -- such as NextBus, the real-time mass-transit-schedule service -- accessible over the phone.

Eventually, Palm could create devices that respond to spoken commands and could even be used to make calls. The latter would involve a partnership with a wireless carrier, something analysts see happening in the not-too-distant future.

"Voice accessibility" and, ultimately, phone connections on handheld computers are "a natural extension in how we use wireless tools," said Megan Gurley, an analyst with Boston research firm the Yankee Group. "It won't be long until you can speak into (a handheld computer) and have it be dialing."