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Handhelds the focus at Mobile Insights

Palm-sized devices the actual size of a palm and audio players for Windows CE devices are two of the technologies being previewed at the Mobile Insights conference.

PALM SPRINGS, California--Palm-sized devices the actual size of a palm and audio players for Windows CE devices are two of the technologies being previewed this week at the Mobile Insights conference here.

Although still a relatively small part of the overall computing market, handheld computing is clearly on the rise. Likewise, manufacturers are trying to expand both the breadth and capabilities of their product offerings to fill in every available niche.

Yesterday, the Palm Computing subsidiary of 3Com officially rolled out its Palm V handheld at the Mobile Insights conference.

Motorola, for instance, is providing a preview of its WisdomPen Lite, a PDA for the Chinese market that is roughly two-thirds the size of a standard palm computer. Or, in other words, the size of a human palm. The WisdomPen Lite contains an application for Chinese handwriting recognition, calendaring and database functions, and a one-way pager. Later models will allow for two-way paging, according to Robin Jones-Mendoza, a representative from Motorola's Lexicon division.

One of its key selling features will be that it can retrieve stock quotes and information via the pager every four minutes, she added. The information systems for retrieving the quotes was developed by Motorola in cooperation with the Chinese Ministry of Information. The WisdomPen Lite, which uses a Motorola Dragonball processor, will cost approximately $150 and will be introduced in China in two weeks.

Motorola also used the show to give a demonstration of Clamor, a speech recognition package for handhelds.

Audible, which specializes in Internet audio software, has struck deals with the major Windows CE manufacturers to bring its audio broadcasting system to Palm-sized computers based around CE, Microsoft's portable operating system.

The company specialized in delivering audio content, such as daily broadcasts from National Public Radio's Fresh Air or "Books on Tape"-like recordings, across the Internet. Currently, customers must use one of Audible's players, a small handheld device with its own synchronization cradle, to receive broadcasts.

By April, however, Compaq Computer, Philips, Casio, and others will begin to bundle Audible's service into their CE devices, said Andy Huffman, an Audible representative.

This gives CE an advantage over Palm, Huffman said. "Palm doesn't have an audio jack," he said. To run it, you need a CE device with 8MB of memory.

Audible has deals with 90 different publishers and is working with Diamond Multimedia to combine it with MP3, Huffman said.

An additional device allows Audible broadcasts to be received over a car radio. Notebook vendors are also looking at including the technology.

Meanwhile, on the notebook front, representatives from Advanced Micro Devices are stating that their manufacturing deal with Toshiba has begun to expand beyond Japan.

AMD-based Toshiba notebooks have been introduced in Canada as well as a number of European countries, according to an AMD representative. Earlier this year, Toshiba broke ranks with Intel by adopting AMD processors for its low-end notebooks.

To date, Toshiba has not announced whether it will bring AMD-powered notebooks to the U.S. market. The representative, however, pointed out that Toshiba sold out its first round of AMD notebooks in Japan.