Where are Handspring's add-in products?

Springboard modules are a chief selling point of Handspring's Visor -- but the products are late to market
Written by Richard Shim, Contributor

Handspring's pledge last fall to deliver an array of plug-in devices for its Palm-based Visor handheld -- everything from an MP3 player to a cell phone -- has fallen behind schedule.

The issue is a critical one for Handspring in its battle with Palm. Its Springboard technology allows Visor users to add new functions by simply plugging in a module, a feature Palm does not have.

Some of the prototype Springboard modules announced included a radio, pager, cell phone and MP3 player. In all, 19 developers announced plans to deliver products shortly after the launch. But eight months later only 11 modules are available, the most innovative being the Eyemodule digital camera from Ideo.

A Handspring executive said the problem isn't with its technology, but rather that companies springing up around the Visor are experiencing growing pains coupled with component shortages.

"While I recognise that there is a delay in the modules, the important issue is that each of these companies are facing different challenges and it is not a software issue," said Lee Epting, Handspring's director of business development. "And we've been helping these developers solve their issues."

Many Handspring developers are smaller companies, some of which are struggling to grow a company and develop a complicated product simultaneously.

At the Visor announcement, Innogear said it planned to have the MiniJam Digital Audio Player by early this year, but it ran into long lead times on components and growing pains as a small company, an executive said. However, the company has managed to release the Innopak 2V and has added to its product offering plans with the SixPack.

"Our desire to build this company right, and the unexpected longer lead times on components, has caused us to miss our original dates," said Bob Fullerton, president and chief product officer for Innogear.

The ongoing shortage of flash memory has also slowed developers, a problem that Handspring said it is trying to help remedy.

In other cases, some of the developers are software companies with no experience with hardware development. That learning curve is slowing the release of products.

Mapping company Marcosoft, maker of the Quo Vadis program, had planned to provide the software for the Navicom GPS module due last November. However, according to Marcosoft spokesperson Tino Frigino, technical difficulties have resulted in the release date being pushed back to the end of this month.

The delays don't appear to be hurting Handspring's popularity. According to Gerry Purdy, CEO of Mobile Insights, Handspring has sold all the units it can make. Once the modules become available, demand for the Visor will increase, he said.

In addition, users are not expressing much disappointment regarding the dearth of modules.

"I haven't received any letters from readers regarding the delay, with the exception of the Handspring modem. I think users still think that the Handspring is a good investment because of the Springboard and the price," said Rick Broida, editor in chief of Handheld Computing. "The delays were not unexpected, because I think that module manufacturers overstated their abilities and weren't taking into consideration development cycles."

Purdy said Handspring's ability to form a company and push a product to market in 12 months may have set unrealistic expectations among developers.

"Handspring wanted to demonstrate they could come out with something fast and create a big splash," Purdy said.

It takes three tries for Microsoft to get something right. And that's enough reason for Palm to be nervous about the software giant's third entry in the handheld market. Go with Jesse Berst to read the news comment at AnchorDesk UK.

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