Palm has big plans for wireless

Palm CEO Carl Yankowski said on Monday that the Santa Clara, California-based company now views "the wireless Internet as our mantra. . . . It will drive the direction of our business."

Yankowski said Palm adopted its new strategy to help its users participate in the mobile e-commerce market, which he called a "huge market . . . $15 [billion] to $20 billion by 2003."

Alan Kessler, Palm's CEO, said the company would not ignore its existing base of 6-million-plus users in its wireless push. "Between now and the end of the year, everyone who has a Palm will be able to connect wirelessly. . . . We want to enable mobile connectivity," he said.

Current Palm users will be offered a number of wireless connection options, Palm executives said at a New York press conference, with the most common being a wired connection to a cell phone.

William Maggs, the company's chief technology officer, said Palm eventually plans to introduce a new line of wireless devices that will run the Palm operating system and will also provide what he called "voice-enabled solutions" with the company's cellular telephone partners, including Nokia.

Elliott Hamilton, an analyst in the Washington office of The Strategis Group, said Palm adopted its wireless strategy to meet the competitive challenges of next-generation cell phones, which will provide users with larger screens to access their data. Cell phones already are the predominant way people in Japan and Europe connect to the Internet, he said.

But, Hamilton added, "right now, there is no doubt a Palm is a better [data access device] than cell phones, which have small screens and tiny buttons."

Hamilton said Palm's wireless redirection - coupled with its plans to add voice capabilities - means "that for all practical purposes, they will have a smart phone."

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