PDAs and mobile phones converging

Long anticipated, the convergence of PDAs (personal digital assistants) and cellular phones will get a boost next week when California-based Handspring announces its VisorPhone.

The product, which will be available by the end of the year, is a Visor-brand handheld plus a Springboard phone module. The Springboard module will have an earpiece that will protrude a few centimetres above the Visor, said a source familiar with the product. All Visors have a built-in microphone.

Included in the kit for turning a Visor into a cell phone will be a lithium ion battery that will increase the bulk of the Visor, as well as a GSM Subscriber Information Module (SIM card) and software.

Because the module uses the GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) network, users wishing to change network providers need only change SIM cards. Currently in the US, where GSM is not a major network, users wishing to change providers -- from AT&T to Verizon Communications, for example -- would need to change phones.

The VisorPhone software will offer speed dialling, dialling from the address book, calling history, three-way conference calling capability, short messaging service features, and caller ID. One feature of the caller ID will look up the phone number in the Visor address book and display the caller's name. If the caller is not in the address book, the application will allow the user to update the address book.

According to the source, users will also be able simultaneously to talk on the phone using the earpiece included in the VisorPhone kit and work on other applications simultaneously.

When Handspring sells the Springboard phone module on its Web site, users will be asked to include their zip code from which the site, will offer the available GSM service carriers and rate plans.

Handspring will also be releasing the phone software to developers and, according to the source, it is expected that other voice modules will be created for the Visor.

Handspring, which according to the latest IDC sales figures has a 22 per cent market share in handheld devices, is not the first to offer a combination cell phone and PDA. However, efforts from other vendors -- including the Qualcomm-Microsoft cell phone and the Nokia 9000 -- have not been notable successes.