The PDA market often seems dominated by just two groups: Microsoft (and its partners) with its Pocket PC devices, and Palm. In reality, other companies are active in this arena. Two of the most interesting vendors are Handspring and Research In Motion (RIM), both of which are in the news this week.
The designers of the original Palm Pilot founded Handspring. The company's first product, Visor, was basically a Palm III clone with one significant difference: It incorporated a slot for "springboard" modules, with which you could add both hardware and software (encoded in ROM) to the device. The Visor line continues today and offers an interesting alternative to Palm's devices. However, the most exciting development from Handspring came last fall with the launch of the Treo 180, a combination cell phone-and-PDA device. The Treo has a physical keyboard (hidden under a flip-up cover) that you can use for phone and email functions. Handspring has since added a color model, the Treo 270, which operates on the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) network, as the Treo 180 does.
Now, Handspring has added a new model to the Treo line. The Treo 300 operates on Sprint's Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) network, which offers data rates as fast as 70Kbps and coverage in locations at which GSM isn't yet available. The device is based on a 33MHz processor running Palm OS and includes a color display. As a phone, the Treo 300 offers three-way calling and speakerphone functionality, and the ability to program as many as 40 speed-dial numbers. The unit also offers all of Palm's PDA features, plus wireless Web browsing and email. The Treo 300 is bundled with Sprint PCS Business Connection Personal Edition software, which Sprint claims will offer "one-touch access" to the user's corporate email. The Treo 300 costs $499, plus a Sprint monthly service plan. PCS Business Connection is included in plans that cost $84.99 or more; you can add it to less expensive plans for $5 per month. The Treo 300 is available now.
RIM made its mark on the PDA market with the BlackBerry email device, which quickly gained cult status among corporate users. The company's claim to fame is providing seamless access to corporate email with a server-based solution. Last year, the company branched out into POP3 mail for end users. RIM announced that it's developing a way for BlackBerry users to view email attachments—including Microsoft Office files, Abobe .pdf files, and HTML and ASCII text. The company also plans to offer a development environment that will let you create additional document-handling tools. RIM is also working with companies such as Hewlett-Packard (HP), Onset Technology, and Xerox on technologies that offer remote printing, faxing, and access to corporate data. RIM expects to deliver customer trials of the attachment-viewing technology later this summer.
These developments are significant because both Handspring and RIM are increasing the capabilities of their devices beyond basic PDA and wireless email functionality, and both provide access to corporate data. That's good news for knowledge workers who need access to remote information while traveling. Whether it's good news for corporate IT departments will depend in large part on how much attention the companies have paid such concerns as manageability and security. But make no mistake: As these "convergence" devices become more common, more users are going to want them—and if you run a corporate network, you can expect to be tasked to support them.
I'm also glad to see both Handspring and RIM continuing to innovate in the mobile and wireless space. Competition can't help but bring prices down and make the technology available to a larger group of users. I'm curious to know how many of you are using a Treo or BlackBerry device. If you are, please email me and let me know how your solution is working out for you!