Palm set to release new PDA

Palm set to release new PDA

While most consumers would not dispute the convenience of using a personal digital assistant (PDA), there remain a few major obstacles to mainstream adoption of the devices.

For a large part, PDAs still retain the "gadget" stigma, but Palm hopes to capture market leadership in the one area in which handhelds have been relatively unsuccessful: the entry level consumer.

Palm last week announced the m100 handheld, which will retail for around $329.

"We have identified a number of barriers to consumers owning Palm organisers," said Palm's Asia-Pacific systems development manager, Stephen O'Donnell. "They are seen as being too expensive, difficult to learn and consumers are worried about data loss and breakage."

The developers of the m100 have taken this into account and while price is the most obvious drawcard -few handhelds retail for less than $600 - Palm has also included a number of modifications to its new PDA based around what O'Donnell describes as "the Zen of Palm" - simplicity, wearability and mobility.

"The form factor is critical to customers, but they see the Graffiti tool as a barrier," O'Donnell explained.

"We have tried to think of what the customer would like to have," he said. "They are not expert computer users, they are on the go and they want a compact organiser. The market is traditionally not the fastest adopter of technology but it is open to it. The [customer's] decision to do so is based on price, the recommendation of others and brand consciousness."

Powered by two AA batteries, the m100 can be customised with different faceplates and includes a travel alarm and a "sticky note" option for those who find Palm's Graffiti writing shorthand daunting. Users simply write onto the device and the note is stored as a virtual sticky note. It also comes with a HotSync cable to enable data exchange and backup with a PC or Mac, multilingual capacity and infrared technology.

The Palm operating system remains the same so users can utilise existing applications. The device can also be linked to a range of peripherals such as modems, MP3 players, digital cameras and memory backup cards.

The idea is to help consumers make the shift from the traditional paper organiser to the m100 as seamless as possible.

It is likely the m100 will replace Palm's IIIe handheld, although the model hasn't been officially discontinued. Although IIIe sales are still very strong, the device was not penetrating into the entry level consumer market, O'Donnell said.

"We tuned down a lot of features in the IIIe to focus on cost, but that is not the only thing the entry level market is concerned about. The m100 is a modification of the existing Palm family and represents a whole new design approach."

The new model also comes with optional accessories such as carry cases, extra cables and a cradle.

Palm has also announced a mobile Internet kit featuring its Web clipping application which allows users to download some of their favourite Internet sites and store them on their Palm.

"We don't try to take a desktop computer and put everything into the device. The Palm is about simple interactions, so it is not a complicated interface in that way."

The m100 will be available late September or early October from distributors Tech Pacific, Advanced Portable Technologies and Modem Wholesalers.

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