Of Mobile Birth

A Little Help . . .

Like Apple Computer, Palm started life as a hardware-maker whose real strength was its operating system. Now it's become a platform developer licensing its software to third-party hardware- and software-makers, much as Microsoft does with its Windows CE/Pocket PC operating system. Palm has signed up more than 80,000 developers-about 15,000 in just the past couple of months.

So far, Microsoft boasts about 60 partners for its new Windows CE/Pocket PC platform and has pretty much the same game plan as Palm for wireless handheld expansion. It will support the whole gamut of solutions-built-in transceivers, clip-on modems, cell phone-to-PDA cables, add-in cards-and let customers do the choosing, says Rebecca Thompson, product manager for Microsoft Mobile Devices.

Already, infrared-equipped handhelds and cell phones can create a dial-up connection between the phone and PDA if they are carefully lined up. But soon the Bluetooth protocol will make wireless transfers between local devices bulletproof. This transceiver chipset, due to become standard issue in desktops as well as handhelds starting this winter, works at up to 30 feet.

Ericsson already offers Bluetooth-equipped phones, and other cell phone-makers can simply add it to their batteries. Size and cost make Bluetooth a tougher fit for handhelds, says Mace, so Palm will rely on those third-parties in the near-term. Some time early next year, Palm will introduce new models including a slot for the new postage-stamp-sized secure digital cards, which will eventually store as much as 256MB of data or provide Bluetooth or other I/O functionality. This fall, it will ship the $50 (street) Palm Mobile Internet Kit to connect Palm III and Palm V models to mobile phones via an infrared link or a separately sold cable. Similarly, Microsoft will rely on Socket Commu-nications, which plans a winter release of a $99 (street) CompactFlash card as a wireless replacement for its Digital Phone Card that now links Pocket PCs and phones by cable.

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This article was originally published in the September 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Of Mobile Birth.

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