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Handspring's phone module for handhelds hits market

The VisorPhone, an add-on that turns Visor handheld computers into mobile phones, is launched in limited areas.

Handspring has begun selling its VisorPhone, an add-on that turns the company's handheld computers into cell phones.

Monday's initial launch is limited to areas served by Cingular Wireless--the company formed by the combination of the wireless businesses of SBC Communications and BellSouth. Customers pay $299 for the VisorPhone when they sign up for service in Pacific Bell wireless areas in California and Nevada or in BellSouth areas in North Carolina, South Carolina, eastern Tennessee and coastal Georgia.

A broader release is expected next year for the VisorPhone, which is designed to work with the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM). For now, the module is for sale only on Handspring's Web site, but the company expects to start selling it in stores in the first half of next year.

Handspring originally announced the VisorPhone in September, promising it would start shipping by the end of the year.

The merger of handhelds and cell phones is taking a number of forms. There are add-ons such as the VisorPhone that turn a Visor handheld into a cell phone. And next-generation cell phones are increasingly taking the features of handheld computers.

For example, there are products from Kyocera and Sagem that combine a cell phone with a Palm or Pocket PC handheld.

Palm also has a partnership with Motorola to jointly develop a combination device, and Microsoft has shown prototypes of its version of a Windows CE-based "smart" phone, dubbed Stinger.