The new devices come at a critical juncture for the company--even though Palm is the established leader in the handheld space. The Palm IIIx and Palm V will compete directly with the newest palm-size PCs based on Microsoft's Windows CE operating system, which offer color displays.
Palm devices currently hold about 72 percent of the handheld market, according to International Data Corporation. But Palm is no longer the only game in town. Microsoft and a bevy of manufacturing partners are expected to flood the market with Windows CE palm-size PCs over the next few years, and may gain 55 percent of the market by 2002, according to IDC.
"With our expanded product line, we're advancing the standard for functionality and form factor in the handheld industry, while remaining true to the ease of use and simplicity that made the Palm Computing platform the world leader," said Andrea Butter, Palm's acting vice president of marketing, in a statement.
Palm's answer to the Microsoft threat--the high-end Palm V--offers a sleek industrial design, but not much in the way of new software features. The Palm V has an aluminum case with smooth curves and edges and recessed buttons, along with a removable leather cover, according to 3Com. But the slim Palm V, which is half the thickness of the Palm III, comes with the same 2MB of memory as its predecessor.
The fancy new device does offer a new lithium ion battery, rather than the AAA batteries of the Palm III and IIIx. The new batteries are rechargeable through an included cradle, and deliver up to 10 hours of battery life.
The four-ounce Palm V carries an estimated retail price of $449. New accessories include the Palm V modem, a snap-on 33.6-kbps modem for $169, and Palm V Travel, a bundle with HotSync cable, and AC/DC for $49.95.
The other device introduced today, the Palm IIIx, is the first addition to the Palm III product line. Featuring 4MB of memory (double the Palm III's capacity), the upgraded handheld will store addresses and third-party applications. The Palm IIIx is also designed to be easily expandable through its internal expansion slot.
The Palm IIIx will have an estimated retail price of $369.
Although the new products don't come with color displays, the displays are designed to cut down on glare and increase screen contrast and clarity, according to Palm.
Both models run on version 3.1 of the Palm operating system, and will be available in international versions for Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
"3Com is committed to providing handheld computing solutions for a wide range of customers--consumers, professionals, executives, corporate fleets, remote workers, and students--all over the world," Butter said in a statement.
Earlier this month, Palm reduced prices on its Palm III and Palm Pro to make room for the new devices. The Palm III now has an estimated retail price of $299, while the Palm Pro goes for $199.
IBM, which markets Palm's devices under its WorkPad PC companion line, is expected to announce tomorrow that it will introduce two devices based on the Palm IIIx and Palm V, sources close to the company say. The devices will be priced $449 and $369, respectively.
IBM's new devices will offer easy synchronization with its Lotus Notes software, which allows WorkPad users access to email and schedules stored in Lotus Notes. Additionally, the company is expected to launch a PC Companions Solutions Web site which will offer information and WorkPad specific applications for download.
Designed for mobile corporate users, the new WorkPad PC Companions will incorporate improved LCD screens and include a new model with an ultra-thin design and rechargeable batteries.