Palm takes Bluetooth baby step

Palm expanded wireless support for its products last week, releasing a new Bluetooth low-power radio communication card that allows newer models of the company's handhelds to communicate with other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

          Palm expanded wireless support for its products last week, releasing a new Bluetooth low-power radio communication card that allows newer models of the company's handhelds to communicate with other Bluetooth-enabled devices.

          The SD (secure digital) format Bluetooth card can plug into the expansion slot on either the m500 or m505 Palm models. Manufactured by Toshiba, the card will cost under $US150 and be available in the US and Europe by December, and then Japan in the early part of 2002, says Michael Mace, chief competitive officer and vice president of product planning and strategy at Palm.

          Bluetooth is intended for wireless communication between multiple devices over distances up to about 10 metres. The SD card will allow two Palm devices to communicate with one another, or with other Bluetooth-enabled products such as cell phones, laptops and printers. Up to eight users can be networked together, exchanging information at the same time, Mace says.

          Palm expects most users will initially use the Bluetooth technology to send data from one Palm device to another when users are near each other. They could send things like business cards, documents or email. When more Bluetooth-enabled PCs and cellphones arrive, users will also likely use the new cards to synchronise their Palm wirelessly with a PC or use their cell phone as a wireless modem.

          Application developers could also come up with some interesting uses for the cards such as networked video games.

          "We expect people will do all sorts of weird things with it," Mace says.

          Palm currently makes a wireless version of its device which can access a wide-area wireless data service to connect to the internet. The new card continues the company's move into the wireless market. The company won't have all its handheld models Bluetooth-ready for at least 12 months.

          Palm's partners are also coming up with Bluetooth "sleds" for handheld models that don't have an expansion slot. These cradles fit around the outside of the handheld, adding wireless capability. These products could start shipping before the SD card, Mace says.

          With only a handful of Bluetooth-enabled products on the market and the price for them often quite high, it could take time for the SD card to take off. As Bluetooth technology becomes more prevalent, Mace expects the SD card price to drop and for Palm to expand its Bluetooth support.

          Palm is currently suffering from tough economic times, facing two rounds of layoffs this year. The company incurred a large inventory backlog when its products did not move off the store shelves as hoped. The SD card could be a welcome sales driver for its handhelds, Mace says.

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