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Handspring crafts ultra-small companion to handhelds

The company and watch maker Citizen are tinkering with a prototype add-on for the Visor handheld that would allow people to copy information from their device to a credit card-sized organizer.

Think of it as Handspring's tribute to Austin Powers sidekick Mini Me.

Handspring and watch maker Citizen are tinkering with a prototype add-on for the Visor handheld that would allow people to copy information from their device onto a second, credit card-sized organizer.

The yet-to-be-named unit is basically an LCD display with a small amount of memory that plugs into the Springboard expansion slot and downloads information, such as the address book, from the Visor.

A similar concept was behind the Rex, a credit card-sized device co-developed by Citizen that debuted a few years back and would sync with a PC. The Rex was sold in the United States by Franklin Electronic Publishers until last year, when Franklin sold the business to Xircom.

Although the Rex was touted as one of the hot products in late 1997, sales failed to meet expectations. Among other complaints, analysts said, the screen was too small.

The Handspring prototype differs conceptually in that the Rex-like organizer would be a secondary, optional organizer.

Handspring CEO Donna Dubinsky said in an interview this week that the Handspring module is still in the prototype stage.

Citizen executives "haven't committed to a production date," Dubinsky said.

Kevin Burden, a handheld analyst at market researcher IDC, said the idea makes sense because although handhelds are small, they are not small enough that people want to take them everywhere. However, the key will be whether Citizen can sell the unit cheaply and still turn a profit.

"I would hope it would be something around the $50 to $75 range," Burden said. "Anything more than that, and it would never take off."

Franklin sold the Rex for as much as $229, although a more basic version was sold for $99. Eventually, Rex organizers were sold for $50 at Costco, which has become somewhat of a clearance outlet for technology inventory.

In any case, Handspring is right to develop numerous add-ons and see what sticks, Burden said.

"The reason why Handspring has done as well as it has is because of Springboard," Burden said. "People have been buying because of the promise of these modules."

On Tuesday, Handspring posted a narrower-than-expected quarterly loss and said it sees financial results for the current quarter and coming year coming in ahead of its earlier estimates.