3Com is exploring an emerging technology called the Wireless Access Protocol for possible use in its Palm computer, a move that would bring new Web browsing capabilities to the popular handheld device, analysts and sources familiar with the matter said this week.
Moving to WAP would be a significant step for 3Com, which has invested heavily to develop a text-based technology called "Web Clipping" for its wireless Palm VII, which was launched in May for a limited US audience. But analysts said the momentum growing behind WAP might not leave 3Com with any choice but to switch to WAP.
Web Clipping allows mobile users to download short bursts of text information from Web sites that have tailored content for 3Com's technology. Web Clipping doesn't allow users to surf the Web at large, but downloads information to "query applications" offered by more than 60 firms. The list of content and service providers using Web Clipping is growing and users can download new query applications from Palm's Web site, 3Com said.
In contrast, WAP provides a set of open standards that allow mobile devices like cell phones, pagers and handheld computers to browse content on the Web. Sites, however, must be reformatted to support a programming language called Wireless Markup Language which supports both text and bitmap images.
WAP still is an emerging technology, but the industry momentum behind it, combined with its potential to offer users greater freedom to surf the Internet, may force 3Com to make a transition from Web Clipping to WAP, analysts said.
"I think they would be foolish not to support WAP. They're trying to push Web Clipping as a metaphor for surfing the Web, but I don't think they'll be that successful," said Ken Dulaney, vice president of mobile computing research with market analyst firm Gartner Group.
3Com denies it has any plans to move away from its proprietary technology, although the company acknowledges that WAP is on its radar screen.
"We're certainly looking at WAP and find it very interesting, but we don't have any imminent plans" to use the technology, Tammy Medanich, product marketing manager with 3Com's Palm Computing division, said in a recent interview.
3Com maintains that Web Clipping has proved popular among its early customers. What's more, the company notes, content for the Palm VII is available now, whereas companies are only just beginning to think about retooling their Web content for WAP.
Web Clipping is "fast and efficient" at downloading snippets of information, said Jill House, a research analyst with IDC's smart handheld devices group. Still, she characterised the technology as an "interim solution" to providing mobile users with wireless Web access.
"(WAP is) a strong technology with a lot of interest from the industry. Given both those factors, it would be very surprising if 3Com were not considering it" for use in the Palm, she said.