Handspring Launches PDA Phone — Trio

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LONDON (Reuters) – U.S.-based Handspring introduced a handheld computer with a built-in cellphone for the European and Asian markets on Monday, beating its biggest rivals to what is expected to be a fast growing market. Called Trio, the 150-gram monochrome display product will go on sale for around $600 in January in an English-language version, starting in Britain, Hong Kong, Australia and Singapore. Other languages will follow in later months. The Trio is designed for the GSM (global system for mobile communications) mobile transmission technology prevalent in Europe. Handspring said it did not plan a version for the dominant wireless networks in the U.S., based on CDMA (news – web sites) (code division multiple access) technology. Makers of handheld computers and cellphones are rushing to introduce new do-everything mobile devices, bringing back memories of the excitement produced by the launch of the first tiny mobile phones some five years ago. Now that cellphone are widely owned, companies hope these new devices, which combine a phone and a personal digital assistant (PDA), will become the engines of growth. With its announcement, Handspring steals a march on rival handheld computer maker Palm Inc, which last month postponed the launch of its long-anticipated i705 model, which is expected to be a PDA-phone combination. Handspring and Palm, which use the same software but are rivals in hardware, together have well over 50 percent of the total market for PDAs. They compete with PDAs using software from Microsoft, Canada’s Research In Motion with its Blackberry devices, and Psion. A color screen version of Trio will go on sale at an estimated $750 next summer, when Handspring also plans an email service similar to the one offered by RIM’s Blackberry devices. The Blackberry service, which is a huge success in the U.S., forwards corporate email automatically to a small handheld computer. It has just been introduced in Europe by British Telecommunications Plc’s wireless unit O2. Handspring was founded by key executives who had earlier helped to set up Palm before it was sold to US Robotics, now a 3Com company. Handspring has tweaked the Palm software to improve the phone functions. Consumers will be able to make calls and send text messages from their address books. Trio will compete with products that are based on Microsoft Pocket PC software. Both Japan’s Mitsubishi and France’s Sagem already sell PDA phones, although larger and heavier models. South Korea (news – web sites)’s Samsung Electronics and British wireless operator O2 have announced plans for much improved but still relatively big PDA phones, based on Microsoft’s Pocket PC 2002, which will hit the shops next year. A host of other companies, among which is Japan’s Toshiba, have also said they will launch PDA phones next year. RETURN OF THE KEYBOARD One Trio version will sport a tiny keyboard, to be operated with thumbs, similar to a RIM Blackberry device. The other version has the familiar Palm interface without a keyboard; users write in characters with a stylus. Handspring Chief Executive Donna Dubinsky, who at Palm helped create a market for keyboard-less handheld computers and forced an entire industry to follow that route, reintroduced the keyboard after she saw how popular it was with Blackberry users, said Bill Holtzman, head of the firm’s international division. “There are two concepts we learned from Blackberry — the keyboard and push-email,” he said, referring to the service of corporate email forwarded to a mobile computer. Handspring had a 14 percent global market share in the first half of 2001, compared with 42 percent for Palm, according to technology consulting firm IDC. Compaq and Hewlett-Packard, which use Microsoft’s Pocket PC software, had an 11 percent and five percent share of the worldwide market respectively. RIM had four percent. Handspring buys a ready-to-use GSM module from France’s Wavecom, which turns the handheld into a cellphone. When the GSM mobile networks in Europe and Asia are fully upgraded to high-speed, always-on GPRS (general packet radio service) Internet access, the Trios can be upgraded to that enhanced service, Holtzman said. “The software can be downloaded via the Internet to a PC and will be installed on the PDA with the next synchronization,” he said. A synchronization is when address books and other programs on a desktop computer are updated with the latest information on the handheld computer, and vice versa. The Trio will be assembled by contract electronics producer Solectron. Handspring’s handheld computers are currently manufactured by Solectron and Flextronics

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