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Palm readies translucent handheld

If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, Apple's industrial designers should get an ego boost tomorrow when Palm Computing introduces a clear PalmPilot.

If imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, Apple Computer's industrial designers should get an ego boost tomorrow when Palm Computing introduces a translucent PalmPilot handheld.

Capitalizing on the hot trend, Palm Computing will tomorrow introduce the see-through version of the recently released Palm IIIe, a company spokesperson confirmed today. Palm has long been rumored to be developing a handheld computer for Apple Computer, architect of the popular iMac and recently announced iBook notebook computer.

The release may be an early attempt to cut off the buzz generated by Handspring, a start-up company launched by Palm co-founders Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, according to industry observers. Handspring is expected to launch a low-cost device for consumers based on the Palm operating system this fall.

Targeted at college users, the clear Palm IIIe device will be sold primarily at campus stores, she said. Other than the distinctive case, the hardware is completely identical to the regular version of the device. Introduced last month, the $229 Palm IIIe is based on the Palm III design, and includes 2MB of memory to store addresses and contact information.

Code-named The Graduate, according to sources close to 3Com, the new version of the popular PalmPilot will be the fifth device released this year from Palm Computing, following the Palm IIIx and IIIe, the slim Palm V, and the wireless Palm VII. Currently, the 3Com company accounts for about 72 percent of the handheld market, according to market research firm International Data Corporation.

The company is expected to release updates to the Palm operating system later this year that will enable color displays and larger devices from third-party companies. The company recently replaced president Robin Abrams, who left for e-commerce start-up Chemdex, with 3Com veteran Alan Kessler.