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Handspring: Security could be our business

Co-founder Jeff Hawkins identifies a number of directions in which the cell phone and handheld computer industries are headed, and he says improved security is a concern.

LAS VEGAS--Handspring co-founder Jeff Hawkins said demand for better security technology in the wireless industry is a potential business opportunity for his company.

In a keynote speech at Comdex Fall 2001, Hawkins identified a number of directions in which the cell phone and handheld computer industries are headed, and he identified improved security as a top concern.

"I don't think any of us is doing it correctly," Hawkins told reporters at a press conference after the speech. "I think that is an opportunity for Handspring."

Hawkins said the mobile devices of the future will be like a billion servers that are persistently connected to the Internet.

"The opportunities for creating havoc are really large," he told the Comdex crowd.

Hawkins would not say what role handspring might play and would not speculate on whether the company would need an acquisition to enter that market.

The bulk of the speech consisted of a humorous retelling of the history of portable computing from the Osborne in 1981 through Apple's Newton and the original Palm Pilot. Hawkins then offered his assessment of the present, demonstrating Handspring's Treo, which combines a cell phone and handheld into a device smaller than any Palm OS device on the market.

Hawkins also outlined a future in which devices like the Treo get smaller and cheaper and wireless Internet access becomes nearly free.

The Treo's existence was first reported by CNET in August after the company was granted regulatory approval for the device. The product was formally announced last month.

The company plans to ship the black-and-white Treo by January, with a color version planned to be released by March or April, Hawkins said.

In his speech and in comments to reporters, Hawkins also called on Palm to step up its innovation. Palm creates the operating system but is also a competitor in the hardware side of the business.

At the same time, Hawkins expressed doubt over the long-term viability of Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system.

"It's a fine product," he said. But, he added, "I don't think it represents the future."

Industry analysts have considered previous comments by Handspring to indicate that it is open to using other operating systems, including Microsoft's.

While Handspring is clearly focused on wireless, Hawkins offered no timetable for when the company might exit the traditional handheld business.

"The PDA as we know it will become the middle and low end of the market," he said. However, he added that the company might still be selling handhelds 15 years from now. "Hewlett-Packard still sells calculators," he noted.

Hawkins threw cold water on any speculation Handspring might look to acquire his former company. Hawkins said he had "no interest in taking them over."

"I think Palm's got enough problems." He added a bit of stock-price humor to douse any merger speculation: "We're going to trump your $1 a share with our $1.50 a share."

Actually, Palm shares closed at $2.54 on Tuesday, down 14 cents, and Handspring slipped 3 cents to $2.30.