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Palm set to debut new device

Palm Computing on Wednesday will announce its much-anticipated next-generation handheld device.

    Palm Computing will announce its much-anticipated next-generation PalmPilot handheld device at an industry event on Wednesday, as the company struggles to regain momentum following the departure of a number of key executives.

    As previously reported, Palm Computing, the division of 3Com that develops and markets the popular PalmPilot handheld computer, will announce a new device at the second Palm Computing Platform Worldwide Developer Conference on December 2.

    Bell South Wireless Data, a provider of wireless data communication services for mobile devices, will also announce it is working with Palm on its wireless efforts, the company said. Bell South's wireless subsidiary offers a data service on a proprietary "intelligent wireless network," according to a company spokesperson.

    Like PCs, handheld computers are advancing on two fronts. In addition to faster and better hardware, Net connection technology will allow these devices to become more of an extension of the Net and to be more integrated into corporate networks.

    Devices providing Internet access and limited computing functions are expected to take off over the next several years, as handheld computers based on the Palm and Microsoft Windows CE operating system offer expanded Internet access.

    Additionally, the recently announced Netscape-America Online-Sun Microsystems alliance is expected to result in a new wave of handheld devices, perhaps based on Sun's Java operating environment, offering expanded Internet connectivity.

    "Wireless seems to be the way everyone's thinking, and actually, it finally seems to be coming," said Terry Nozick of Mobile Insights, a mobile computing newsletter. "It doesn't surprise me that wireless is the way Palm would be going."

    The device's introduction, which was originally expected in November, was delayed partly because of the departures of key Palm executives and cofounders Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, who have since launched a start-up called Handspring, which will develop consumer handheld devices based on the Palm operating system.

    Janice Roberts, acting president of Palm Computing since Dubinsky's departure, will announce the "next-generation handheld organizer based on the Palm Computing platform," according to a Palm Computing statement.

    The device is not expected to hit store shelves before early 1999, missing the deadline for holiday sales.

    "At this stage of the game, for anything announced at this time of year, it's difficult to get it into stores for Christmas," said Scott Miller, a mobile computing analyst at Dataquest.

    Palm is also set to announce on Wednesday a "new way of accessing information on the Internet," which is expected to include a new wireless connectivity initiative.

    Joining Palm at the conference will be partner Motorola, whose DragonBall processor is used in existing PalmPilots as well as the upcoming version. Motorola executives will also be demonstrating the company's wireless technology at the conference.

    The Palm platform has been marked by the staunch loyalty of its developer community, but that momentum may be shifting as third-party software vendors are being lured by the simplicity of writing for the Microsoft Windows CE operating system, which is similar to the familiar desktop version of Windows.

    Around 3,000 developers are involved with the Palm platform, while an equal or slightly greater amount work with the Windows CE platform, according to Nozick. "Windows CE is going to provide Palm a run for its money," he said. "Palm has led the way, and gotten in through the back doors to corporate America. The ease of use and functions are great, but are not going to sustain it over the next couple of years."

    But, Nozick added, "Palm is aware of what's going on, and I'm sure they're smart enough to figure it out."

    New online information services offering travel data and news are also expected.

    3Com, along with Intel, IBM, Ericsson, and Nokia, is part of the "Bluetooth" wireless technology initiative announced in May, which is expected to play a large part in the 1999 PalmPilot's wireless capabilities.

    The wireless communication protocol will allow the Pilot to communicate via cell phone to an expanded docking station, which can then connect to the user's PC.