By JIM KRANE, AP Technology Writer
NEW YORK (AP) – As computers shrink from the size of an outhouse to the dimensions of a pack of cigarettes, inventors are hatching scads of uses for them.
New gadgets are converting handheld computers into telephones, voice recorders and cameras. Handhelds are storing electronic books, driving directions and maps and serving them up with voice commands.
Most new handheld add-ons are being built for Palm Inc.’s (NasdaqNM:PALM – news) dominant Palms and the rival Handspring Visor (news – web sites) line, which run the Palm operating system.
But developers are also tinkering with adjuncts to the Microsoft-based Pocket PC format used by Compaq, Casio and Hewlett-Packard.
Singapore’s Shinei International has developed a pair of Palm peripherals, including a $60 voice recorder for the new Palm 500 series. The recorder, called the i-Vox, is mounted in a smoky gray snap-on shield that also protects the screen from scratches.
Shinei also builds a $150 MP3 player that snaps onto the Palm computer and holds 32 megabytes of music. On display at the PC Expo in New York this week, both devices hit stores in July.
For folks who can learn to type one-handed, Ontario-based Matias Corp. has released a $299 kit with a tiny half-keyboard, straps, wires and software that turns the Palm into a wearable PC.
With the keyboard Velcro-strapped to one forearm and the Palm to the other, the wearer can do some computing while, say, rappelling down a cliff.
Cell phone maker Ericsson (news – web sites) is developing a $199 wireless telephone headset that clips to the ear, operated from a 500-series Palm via a Bluetooth wireless connection. The combo unfortunately requires a third device: a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone that transfers calls to the headset.
New 500-series Palms can also read Panasonic’s tiny new Secure Digital memory cards, touted as the handheld’s equivalent of a PC’s rewriteable CD-ROM. The 64 MB cards, designed to store pictures, sound or other data, cost $159, but Panasonic expects the price to slip to $99 by August. The company’s SD-enabled cameras start at $550. Panasonic SD MP3 players run about $350.
Detroit-based Delphi Automotive released a $349 Palm docking station that mounts on a car’s dashboard. The device cradles the Palm Pilot and a cell phone and lets a distracted driver surf the Web or make calls through voice commands.
An interesting device for the Handspring Visor is a minuscule keyboard called SnapNType that slips over the handheld’s base and turns it into a thumbs-operated word processor. The keyboard, to be released in September by Hong Kong-based TT Tech, sells for just $50.
Worried about getting lost? San Diego’s Nexian just released HandyGPS Pro, a global positioning system (GPS) device for the Visor that displays maps by three separate vendors. The cheapest version bundles the GPS device and Rand McNally’s Street Finder map software for $229.
A wireless module for the Visor turns it into a cell phone that operates on the digital CDMA (news – web sites) network used by SprintPCS. The $169 module, to be released in August by Santa Clara, Calif.-based Airprime, Inc., allows callers to talk, send e-mail or surf the Internet.
On the other end of the handheld spectrum, handhelds using Microsoft’s Pocket PC format can’t yet boast Palm’s proliferation of peripherals. This is partly because Palm add-ons – such as MP3 players, e-book readers and handwriting recognition – are bundled with the operating system.
The three chief brands, Compaq’s iPAQ, Hewlett-Packard’s Jornada and the Casio Cassiopeia, support expansion devices that slide into a Compact Flash slot or a PC card slot. On some models, the slot itself is an add-on. From there, peripherals such as Wireless Data modems are simply plugged in.
As yet, none of the three companies’ Pocket PCs support a telephone attachment.
England’s Colorgraphic makes a $239 VGA expansion card for the Pocket PC that allows a user to connect to a larger monitor or projector, and, say, show a PowerPoint presentation.
IBM is also selling its one-gigabyte Microdrive Storage disc for the Pocket PC for $459.
Other add-ons for the Pocket PC format include a GPS device and a biometric fingerprint reader that secures the device from unauthorized use.
HP also just released its $169 digital HP Pocket Camera, which slides into the Jornada’s Compact Flash expansion slot.