Samsung phone, Bluetooth in Palm's future

Samsung said it plans to launch its mobile smart phone in North America in the first half of next year. Shown briefly on stage here at Palm's annual conference for developers, the phone appeared no larger than a modern cell phone. Samsung joins Nokia, Motorola and Kyocera, who have also licensed Palm's software for use in phones.

Palm executives also detailed plans for the next version of its operating system software, Palm OS 4.0, whose beta version is being given to developers at the PalmSource conference here this week. Due out in the second quarter next year, the software will support integrated voice telephony, allowing developers to build devices that double as cellular phones without the need for add-on components.

Palm OS 4.0 also will be able to store voice recordings as data files and will improve the screen quality of Palm devices by adding 16-bit colour displays, said Carl Yankowski, Palm's chief executive officer, in a speech at the start of the show.

Also next year, Palm will extend its e-mail services to include message notification and instant messaging, which allows users to chat in real time using their Palm devices. Next week, Palm will launch a beta version of its MyPalm Internet portal, which offers wireless e-mail, online calendar synchronisation, Web searching and other content, Yankowski said.

Palm hopes the improvements will help it to maintain its lead over rival Microsoft, which is also pushing its software for use in PDAs and smart phones. New research to be published by research company IDC estimates that Palm's software is used in about three quarters of handheld computers sold worldwide this year, although it also shows the Microsoft platform making slight gains.

The theme running through presentations from several Palm executives was that the devices based on Palm software will become a more integral part of users' daily lives, at work and at home. To emphasise the broad marketing opportunities for Palm's computers, Palm executives were joined on stage by supermodel Claudia Schiffer, who recently put her name on a Palm computer that comes in metallic shades of pink and blue.

"It has everything on it I need when I go traveling around the world," said Schiffer, who uses her Palm for calculating currency conversions and keeping track of how many calories she consumes.

Palm boasts more than 130,000 registered software developers today, up from a little more than 20,000 a year ago, a sign of the growing support for Palm's platform, Yankowski said. The company is particularly strong in the US retail market, where 93 per cent of handheld computers sold in September used Palm's software, he said.

Bill Maggs, Palm's chief technology officer, showed a prototype Palm device that includes Bluetooth, a wireless technology that allows devices to "talk" to each other at close range. The first Palm-OS based products incorporating Bluetooth will appear next year, and will allow users to connect their Palm-based computers to the Internet via a wireless connection to their mobile phone, and also to communicate with other Palm devices.

Maggs showed a version of the game Biplane Ace from Astraware, which he played with another Palm representative on stage using a wireless Bluetooth connection. A few hundred developers here this week will be given a Bluetooth radio module that works with Palm's computers, allowing them to start developing compatible hardware and software.

The company's long-term goal is to extend the capabilities of its Palm software to support the delivery of new Internet-based services to end users. Such services will include the ability to download music and other multimedia content via wireless networks, as well as the ability to shop online. With the addition of beefed up security, the device could also store a digital version of a user's driver's license and credit cards, executives said, creating the first true "eWallet."

Many of those capabilities won't come until version 5.0 of the Palm OS, which will appear in preview releases next year and is expected to ship in 2002. That software platform will work with faster microprocessors developed by Arm Holdings, which eventually will replace Motorola's Dragonball chips used in Palm's handhelds today. The company showed a prototype computer motherboard that housed an Arm chip from Cirrus Logic running a version of Palm's operating system.

Newer handheld computers based on Microsoft's competing pocket PC platform already include an Arm processor. They also already support the brighter,16-bit colour displays.

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James Niccolai

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