PalmSource Seeds Palm OS 5.3 to Developers

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PalmSource has posted on its developer web site an early version of Palm OS 5.3, which adds support for an API for dynamic input areas, QVGA, and Simplified Chinese.

Though Sony has been including a virtual Graffiti area on some of its handhelds for over a year, there has been no standard API in the operating system to handle this. Instead, each licensee has needed to develop their own. PalmSource’s policy is to allow its licensees to create their own APIs necessary to support new features. This allows the licensees to develop, with PalmSource’s advice, APIs based on “real world” experience, rather than PalmSource developing an API based on theory. Later, PalmSource will create a standard API based on the experiences of all its licensees.

Apparently the virtual Graffiti area has worked its way through the full process, as PalmSource has now developed a standard API for it, though it calls it a dynamic input area. This better reflects the fact that licensees are now using this for more types of text input than Graffiti. It is this API that is being integrated into Palm OS 5.3.

This API will only cover displays with the input area at the bottom. Both Sony and Tapwave are coming out with models that have dynamic input areas on the side, which aren’t covered by this API. It supports screens that are 320 by 480, 240 by 320, and 160 by 240.

This is the first time the Palm OS has had built-in support for handhelds with 240-by-320 pixel screens. Though the standard resolution for Pocket PCs, there are no current Palm OS models available in the U.S. that use this resolution, typically called QVGA, for quarter VGA. The only ones that did were made by TRGpro/HandEra, which is no longer a Palm OS licensee.

It isn’t known if PalmSource is adding QVGA support at the request of its licensees or if the company is simply giving the licensees more options. Lenovo, a licensee in China, does make Palm OS handhelds with this resolution and this change may be to help it.

PalmSource sees China as an important area for growth. PalmSource’s CEO David Nagel said last year his company has a goal of having 20% of the Chinese handheld market by the end of 2004. To help foster this growth. support for Simplified Chinese has been added to the next version of the Palm OS.

For Developers Only

Palm OS 5.3 is not available to users. Distributing new versions of handheld operating systems doesn’t happen the same way it does with desktops. When PalmSource finishes work on a new one, it is only given to the licensees, who have to customize it for their individual models. However, it is rare for the licensees to distribute an upgraded operating system for current handhelds. Usually the licensees just use the newest version on their next handheld.

PalmSource has released only to developers an early version of the Software Development Kit (SDK) they need to ensure their applications will run correctly under the new version of the operating system. There is also a beta version of the Palm OS 5.3 Simulator and a sample application showing developers how to write code for the new dynamic input area API.

These tools can be found on the Palm OS Developer site.

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