Enterprises see new uses for Palm devices

PalmSource's new operating system, OS 5, should put the Palm platform on a par with or ahead of Microsoft's PocketPC, said some enterprise users attending the PalmSource conference in San Jose last week.

          PalmSource's new operating system, OS 5, should put the Palm platform on a par with or ahead of Microsoft's PocketPC, said some enterprise users attending the PalmSource conference in San Jose last week.

          But both the Palm Solutions Group, maker of Palm hardware, and PalmSource, Palm's operating system division, need to attract more diverse corporate applications to the platform before Palm devices are accepted in the enterprise as more than a personal information management tool.

          "Palm's bread and butter is the end user shopping in CompUSA. But to target the enterprise there needs to be a killer app," said Michael Ashby, director of the International Users Group. "The fashion sense of owning a Palm has gone away and people are saying, 'What can I do with this thing?' There are no killer apps for the enterprise - the apps are all too individualised."

          Andy Ball, president of Webcor Builders, a construction company based in San Mateo, California, said, "The new OS 5 should help put [the Palm platform] ahead of Microsoft offerings. Palm has been losing ground over the last year to both [Research in Motion, maker of] Blackberry and Microsoft. By midyear, Palm needs to leapfrog ahead with clear advantages to corporate users and enterprise systems or risk becoming a second-rate player."

          Users at the show, which some attendees say is quieter than previous PalmSource conferences, are keen to get their hands on the Palm i705 device that made its debut last week.

          The device is Palm's first serious play in the enterprise and offers always-on capabilities and the ability to push Microsoft Exchange and Lotus Domino-based corporate e-mails directly to the device. That functionality is possible using Palm's Wireless Messaging Server, but that won't be available until the (US) summer.

          "That's dumb," said Tommer Catlin, MIS director at Webcor, which has 200 on-site construction personnel using Palm devices. He purchased an i705 last week and wants to test out the messaging server, but he will have to wait.

          The majority of the devices used by Webcor are non-wireless, but the company is testing a few wireless Palm devices that allow users to access weather reports and basic email services. Among the applications used by the on-site building personnel include Punchlist, a list of items in a building that need to be finished or reworked before a construction project can be completed. Users update the information by syncing their Palm devices. But the company is looking to develop new applications that can be used wirelessly, explains Catlin.

          One such is an application that will track site workers and keep information about any health concerns they may have that would affect their tasks at construction sites. Catlin says giving site supervisors immediate access to that kind of information would be better than having them use up valuable time going back to their trailers to sync their Palm devices.

          "I'm excited to see the new OS 5 and the chip which should make the devices more powerful. The Punchlist is really slow - even on the new Palms. We want to be able to have high-scale CAD (computer aided design) drawings on the devices," he said.

          Catlin is also interested in the support for the IEEE 802.11b wireless LAN standard that will be part of the new operating system. "We'd be able to have access points and let people roam around from job site to jobs site," he said.

          Ball added, "The key to success for the i705 is the instant messaging with notification and improved hand writing recognition; it has to be at least as good as the Blackberry. Also important is the quality of the screen which needs to be a lot better that the Palm 505 device. Combining a cell phone, like the Samsung [integrated PDA and wireless phone] is an obvious near-term requirement."

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