Handspring to unveil wireless handhelds

The company plans on Monday to announce devices that combine a handheld organizer, a cell phone and Web browsing.

Richard Shim Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Richard Shim
writes about gadgets big and small.
Richard Shim
3 min read
Delivering on promises to become more focused on wireless communications, Handspring plans on Monday to announce devices that combine a handheld organizer, a cell phone and Web browsing, according to sources.

As first reported by CNET News.com, Handspring received Federal Communications Commission approval in late August for two such devices with built-in wireless communications: the Treo k180, which has a tiny keyboard, and the Treo g180, which uses Graffiti handwriting recognition for text input. However, Handspring never intended the information to become public that soon and had the agency temporarily withdraw its approval, thereby making details of the devices no longer publicly available.

Sources said the devices, which use the Palm operating system, will be announced Monday but are not expected to be available immediately. One source said they will cost about $400.

Mountain View, Calif.-based Handspring declined to comment. But Chief Executive Donna Dubinsky and other executives have said in recent months that wireless communications will play an increasingly important role in the product plans for the company.

A move toward wireless could help Handspring over the long term but won't immediately aid the company's bottom line, analysts have said. Devices similar to the Treo, such as Kyocera's Palm OS-based Smartphone, have so far appealed only to a niche market.

Since the spring, Handspring has been locked in a bruising price war with Palm amid weaker demand for handhelds that were flying off the shelves a year ago. Most recently, Handspring chopped the price of its color Visor Prism by $100 to $299.

After the Treo devices debuted briefly on the FCC's Web site in August, the agency removed the documents at Handspring's request and temporarily withdrew its regulatory approval. An FCC official said at the time that Handspring wanted approval to be held until Oct. 15.

Handspring Treo g180 According to documents that appeared on the FCC site, the devices can surf the Internet using Handspring's Blazer browser and offer phone functions similar to the VisorPhone add-on. The devices will use a 33MHz Dragonball VZ processor, 16MB of DRAM and rechargeable batteries. Each device has a cover that flips up to act like an earpiece on a phone. The receiver is a microphone located at the bottom of each unit.

One source added that a third new device, similar to the Treo k180, will incorporate a color screen, but will come out after the release of the black-and-white Treo k180 and Treo g180.

The Treo devices mark Handspring's second attempt at a wireless device. The first effort was the VisorPhone, an add-on module to create cell phone capabilities to Visor handhelds. Company representatives have acknowledged that sales of the device didn't live up to expectations. Nonetheless, the software development for the VisorPhone laid the groundwork for the upcoming Treo devices.

The VisorPhone cost $299 with service activation when it was released in December and has gone through numerous price reductions and sales promotions. The VisorPhone is now free with service activation with wireless service provider Cingular Wireless or VoiceStream Wireless.

All of the major handheld companies are working to add additional wireless capabilities--both voice and data--into their products. =""> By contrast, Palm's next device with built-in wireless capabilities, which has been delayed until next year, will focus on always-on e-mail but will lack the ability to make phone calls.

Research In Motion is also looking to add voice capabilities to its latest BlackBerry e-mail devices, which run on the next-generation GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) network, in use in Europe. Last month, RIM received approval from the FCC for the U.S. version of the GPRS device. However, RIM has yet to announce its plans for a GPRS device in the United States.

The design of the new RIM devices includes a headphone jack and can be made ready to make phone calls with a software upgrade, although RIM must first strike a deal with the carriers on how to split revenue.

"We fully expect voice services to be available in the U.K. at a later date, but we need to wait for BT Cellnet to announce their plans," Mark Guibert, RIM's vice president of brand management, said in an e-mail Thursday.