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Internet World: Handspring grabs the spotlight

October 8, 1999
Web posted at: 10:20 a.m. EDT (1420 GMT)

by Marc Ferranti


NEW YORK (IDG) -- Judging from the number of third-party expansion products at the Handspring booth here, and the size of the crowd gawking at them, the direction in which handheld computing is headed may be summed up in one word: add-ons.

Handspring announced its Visor handheld product family to the press three weeks ago, but the Internet World show held here this week was the first time the public got a chance to see it.

There are also several new add-on products for the Visor being announced here, among them a wireless communications module from startup Widcomm, which claims to be the first company to be able to demonstrate wireless technology from the Bluetooth alliance running on a handheld device.
Son of Palm - cheaper, faster, expandable

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In all, 20 companies are at the Handspring booth offering add-ons, or "expansion products," in Handspring terminology. These include pagers, global positioning systems, MP3 audio players, voice recorders, smart-card readers, field-data collection modules, games, and cameras.

The Handspring family itself comprises the Visor Solo, priced at $149; the Visor, priced at $179, and the Visor Deluxe priced at $249. The Solo will be available for ordering over the Internet, with delivery this quarter, and the other two products are slated to be shipped through retail channels next year.

The Handspring product series is based on 3Com's Palm Computing technology. The founders of Handspring previously worked at 3Com developing the original PalmPilot, and licensed the Palm technology to develop the Visor and its complementary Springboard technology. Springboard gives the handheld devices their expansion capabilities.

The Visor can run the same wide range of applications that run on the Palm OS, and comes equipped with the core applications that Palm users have come to expect, including: address book, memo pad, expense tracker, and e-mail manager. But what has captured the attention of show attendees are the array of products on display that snap into the Springboard slot on the back of the Visor.

"This is the highlight of the show, this is the future of handheld computing right here," said Michael Schneider, president of Integrated Information Business Systems (IBIS), a computing consultancy based in New Haven, Conn. "The Springboard expansion slot will do to handheld computers what the PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) expansion slot did for PCs -- it opens the door to a whole new realm of possibilities."

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On display here are various consumer devices -- such as San Diego, Calif.-based Innogear's MiniJam Digital Audio MP3 Player, due out later this year for the Visor, priced at under $100. There are also plenty of business add-on products on display, and companies can use the Springboard developers kit, available for free, to develop their own, industry-specific applications, Schneider noted.

The free Springboard kit, and the willingness of 3Com to license the Palm technology, will help build widespread support for the platform, potentially at the expense of Microsoft's Windows CE operating system for consumer devices, according to Schneider.

In addition to the variety of companies that announced Visor add-on products at the company's premiere for the press last month, several companies have just announced products this week here at the show.

San Diego-based Widcomm, for example, previewed what it claims to be the first Bluetooth application for a handheld device, the Blue-Connect module. Bluetooth is a wireless communication specification designed to allow mobile phones, personal digital assistants and PCs to connect via short-range radio links. The technology is being backed by an alliance of more than 1,000 telecommunications and computer companies.

Widcomm's Blue-Connect module will let Visor users update contact information, and download calendar items and e-mail, over radio links to other devices that incorporate the Bluetooth specification. It will also let Visor users send messages to each other, wirelessly, over distances up to 30 feet. Widcomm also demonstrated a base station, via which multiple Blue-Connect equipped Visors can hook up to the Internet. The company expects to deliver Blue-Connect by mid-2000; pricing has not been set. The company gave no date for release of a base station product.

Other new Visor add-on modules announced this week for availability later in the quarter, include the following products (for which pricing was not immediately available):

  • The GoType! Pro keyboard from LandWare, which works with all Palm Computing devices.

  • The MyCorder Data Acquisition module from Datastick Systems, which lets the Visor be used as a multichannel data recorder for analog data such as temperature, pressure and three-dimensional acceleration.

  • Unimount mounting and docking accessories from Revolve Design, which makes similar products for the Palm family.

Marc Ferranti is news editor for the IDG News Service in New York.

Visor maker expects Springboard to jump-start new PDA
September 14, 1999
Son of Palm - cheaper, faster, expandable
September 13, 1999
Should Palm and CE users switch to Visor?
September 13, 1999

Handspring Visor somersaults over the Palm
(PC World Online)
The PalmPilot was good, will Handspring's Visor be better?
(InfoWorld Electric)
Visor just like Palm, only more like a toy
(InfoWorld Electric)
PalmPilot inventors launch Handspring start-up
New president reads Palm's future
(PC World Online)
Palm beyond the Pilot
(PC World Online)
A full-size keyboard that fits in your Palm
(PC World Online)
Internet anywhere: A new wave of wireless devices arrives
(PC World Online)
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LandWare, Inc.
Datastick Systems, Inc.
Revolve Design
Widcomm, Inc.
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