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Palm dangles Bluetooth before developers

The handheld maker is once again trying to spur developers to create programs that take advantage of the wireless technology.

!?EDS UPDATE 1/14, 7:25AM PT: revises graf 2, new graf 5 --> Handheld maker Palm is once again trying to spur developers to create programs that take advantage of Bluetooth wireless technology.

Palm on Monday announced it is offering new software to enable developers to create products based on Bluetooth. The company has been trying for some time to get its developers to embrace the new technology.

The handheld leader is a strong backer of Bluetooth, integrating support for the short-range wireless connection into the Palm operating system and planning to build the technology into future devices.

In addition to allowing a Palm to communicate wirelessly with a cell phone, laptop or printer, Bluetooth potentially opens the door to new uses for handhelds, such as multiplayer gaming and allowing multiple handheld owners to work simultaneously on projects. But first Palm needs its base of 180,000 developers to start writing the programs.

The new toolkit, available as a free download from Palm's Web site, is a test release of Palm's Bluetooth Software Developer Kit. It includes Bluetooth software to work with the Palm OS, Palm's Bluetooth application programming interface, configuration tools, documentation and sample code, the company said.

Palm previously had made available to developers a Palm V with a Bluetooth add-on to spur them to create software. However, Palm said, only about 60 such units were handed out; the new software kit, along with hardware from Palm and others, will be available to a broader base of developers, said Michael Mace, Palm's chief competitive officer.

"A lot (of developers) have been asking for it," Mace said.

Bluetooth has been slow to take off, but some say it has been gaining momentum recently.

Meta Group says: For .Net, we expect Palm to become primarily a thin-client access device, putting it at a great disadvantage in Microsoft-centric environments.

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Last year, Palm itself was supposed to release an add-on Bluetooth card that fits into the Secure Digital expansion slot on its m125, m500 and m505 handhelds. But that effort was delayed until sometime early this year. Palm said at a financial conference last week that the add-on should be "out soon." The company also plans to build Bluetooth into future devices and this week inked a deal with Broadcom to provide the necessary chips.

Compaq Computer has also incorporated Bluetooth into one of its latest iPaq handhelds, which use the Pocket PC operating system from Microsoft.

Palm has announced plans to add a number of wireless technologies into its products by this fall.

By the end of February, Palm has said, it will announce the successor to the Palm VII, which will offer a sleeker design and always-on access to corporate e-mail. Palm received regulatory approval last year for such a device, known as the i705, but then delayed the product until early this year.

However, Palm said last week that the server software needed for behind-the-firewall access won't be available until the March-to-May quarter. Palm also wants to integrate support for 802.11b, the wireless corporate networking standard, as well as for the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) and GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) wide-area network standards.