Handspring's Visor speaks

Audible, a company that specializes in spoken-word audio, plans to announce a Visor add-on module for listening to books and other media.

2 min read
A cheaper form of the spoken word is coming to the Handspring Visor.

Audible, a Wayne, N.J.-based company that specializes in spoken-word audio, plans to announce on Wednesday an add-on module for listening to books and other media.

The Audible Advisor fits into the Visor's Springboard expansion slot and includes 16MB of memory, which Audible said is enough to hold nearly 4.5 hours of spoken audio. Audible is selling the module for $129, or for $49 when buyers sign up for a one-year subscription to its service. The monthly service starts at $12.95 for one audio book and one periodical subscription.

The Advisor, which is available on Handspring and Audible's Web sites, is slightly cheaper than an MP3 module for the Visor already in existence. The SoundsGood digital-audio player with 64MB of memory costs $149.

"It's an innovative move for Handspring because the Palm (operating system) is not yet supporting audio," Audible Chairman Donald Katz said Tuesday.

Audio playback is not yet a standard part of the Palm operating system, whose licensees include Handspring, Sony and HandEra. The rival Pocket PC operating system from Microsoft supports MP3 files with its built-in Windows Media player.

However, add-ons are available that turn a Visor or a Palm handheld into an MP3 player. Sony's new Clie PEG-N710C is the first Palm OS-based handheld to support MP3 playback on its own due to an added DSP chip. In addition, the HandEra 330 includes a voice recorder that records and plays sound clips.

Katz said Audible is focusing on audio that can make people more productive--something they're willing to pay for. Audible's products include books, radio programs, lectures and daily digests of publications such as The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

Audible's products have already been available for the Pocket PC and other handheld devices.

Katz said Audible gets a "single-digit percentage of our subscribers" simply by advertising in the boxes for Pocket PC-based handhelds.

Microsoft invested in Audible in 1999 and chipped in another $10 million in February. Audible has lined up a number of key partners, including Amazon.com and Random House, but its stock has languished. Shares of Audible closed down 2 cents, or 3 percent, to 56 cents on Tuesday.

Although the Advisor itself is manufactured by Card Access, Audible is not a stranger to the device business, having come out with its first gadget, a 4MB spoken-word player, in 1997.

Katz said the idea for the Advisor module came up when he was talking to Handspring founder Jeff Hawkins last year at a Kleiner Perkins conference in Aspen, Colo.