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Palm vets' new handheld to debut at Internet World

Handspring, a start-up founded by former Palm Computing executives, is expected to debut its highly anticipated first handheld computer at Internet World in October, sources say.

Handspring, a start-up founded by former Palm Computing executives, is expected to debut its highly anticipated first palm-size computer at Internet World in October, sources said.

The debut of the device has been much anticipated by the industry, eager to see if Palm Computing co-founders Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins can duplicate their handheld success. The various Palm devices are far and away the most popular handhelds on the market.

The Handspring device will be priced lower than any existing Palm, according to sources familiar with the product. It will feature 2MB of memory, a black-and-white display similar to those in the Palm IIIx and Palm V, and a design similar to the Palm III series, sources said. The cheapest Palm, the recently released Palm IIIe, is priced at $229.

Unlike existing Palm handhelds, the Handspring device features a large expansion slot in the back, dubbed the "Springboard," sources said. This slot is expected to be used for add-on hardware which could significantly add to the functionality of the product, sources said.

For instance, the device could be upgraded to offer MP3 music or wireless Internet connectivity, two areas exploding in popularity. Future devices from Palm are rumored to feature a similar expansion slot.

"It's very clever," said one industry source familiar with the product.

Handspring declined to comment on the new device.

Handspring is a licensee of Palm Computing and uses the Palm operating system in its new device. Other devices in this class use different operating systems, such as Microsoft's stripped down OS, Windows CE.

Handspring executives have been tight-lipped about details of their upcoming product, but they have said publicly that an ideal palm-size device should feature a color display, music and wireless capabilities, and be priced around $100.

Some palm-size devices based on the Windows CE operating system already offer MP3 music, including Casio's Cassiopeia E-100. And the Palm VII offers wireless connectivity through the Palm.net Web-clipping service. But those devices are fairly pricey: The Palm VII retails for $599, while the Casio is priced around $450.

Palm is currently the dominant player in the handheld market, accounting for more than 70 percent of all unit shipments, according to market research firm International Data Corporation. The 3Com company has stepped up its licensing efforts in the face of an onslaught from Microsoft and its handheld manufacturing partners.

Handspring is the company's first licensee, although company executives have said in the past that upcoming software updates due later this year will allow licensees to build larger devices with bigger displays.

Because it is based on the Palm operating system, Handspring's device is expected to be compatible with the scores of third-party applications already available for Palm products. Handspring has scheduled a developer's preview on September 1, perhaps mindful of the role Palm's enthusiastic development community has played in the company's success.

Handspring has reserved a large booth near the center of the trade show floor in New York, according to the Internet World Web site.