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PalmOne to release two new Zire devices

The two Zire gadgets will be aimed at the consumer market, which continues to buoy the struggling but market-leading handheld maker.

Handheld maker PalmOne plans to announce next Wednesday two additions to its Zire line of devices, as it continues to look to the consumer market to improve its prospects, according to sources familiar with the company's plans.

The Zire 72, which will cost $299, and the Zire 31, to be priced at $149, will both use PalmSource's Garnet operating system. The Zire 72 will likely use Intel's latest high-end handheld processor, the PXA270 chip code-named Bulverde, which has a clock speed of 312MHz, the sources said. The high-end handheld will come with a built-in digital camera, a digital audio player, a high-resolution display, a Secure Digital expansion slot and Bluetooth networking technology. The sliding case used with the Zire 71 will not be used with the Zire 72.

The Zire 31 will use an Intel handheld chip with a clock speed of 200MHz. It will come with a Secure Digital expansion slot, a digital audio player, and a display with a 160-by-160-pixel resolution.

Details about both products have been leaking out to numerous enthusiast and online retail sites in the weeks leading up to the formal announcement from Milpitas, Calif.-based PalmOne.

PalmOne representatives declined to comment on the upcoming releases. PalmOne chief Todd Bradley previously said new devices were on the way this month.

Since the launch of the original $99 Zire in late 2002, sales of the devices to consumers have provided a welcome boost to the struggling but market-leading handheld maker. , targeting the consumer and business markets with different products to better address their needs.

The business sector has always been a tough market to crack, but consumers--though they spend less money per device--have been the cornerstone of the company's business. The company recently said it has sold more than 3 million Zire devices in less than 18 months.

PalmOne's Treo combination cell phone and organizer, which it acquired through the purchase of rival Handspring, has been gaining some ground in the business market. But a parts shortage has been limiting supply of Treo 600s.

PalmOne plans to continue its strategy of attracting first-time buyers while wooing cell phone carriers to support the Treo 600 on their networks and sell it to service subscribers.

Worldwide handheld shipments totaled 3.4 million units in the fourth quarter of 2003, according to research firm IDC. That's an increase of 3.2 percent compared with the same period a year ago and up 52.7 percent compared with the third quarter. For 2003, shipments were down 17.9 percent, slipping from 12.6 million units to 10.4 million.