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Samsung licenses Palm system for smart phones

The handset manufacturer will use the operating system to make devices that combine a cell phone with a personal digital assistant.

Samsung has licensed the Palm operating system to make smart phones, which combine a cell phone and a personal digital assistant, as the OS battle in handhelds continues.

Samsung said Tuesday it will release a Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) cell phone that contains a Palm organizer. The device is scheduled to arrive in the second quarter of 2001 in North America. Other products will follow.

An early sample of the as-yet-unnamed device, unveiled at this week's PalmSource conference in Santa Clara, Calif., shows that it's slightly taller and about 25 percent narrower than a typical Palm handheld.

The device offers voice activation and voice dialing. The dial-pad buttons are software and appear on the color screen.

Samsung's smart phone allows Net access either through Palm's Web-clipping applications or a built-in Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) browser.

Interestingly, Samsung is also working on similar devices, code-named Stinger, with Microsoft, Palm's bitter rival. The Stinger smart phones are expected to be released in the United States and Europe next year.

A number of companies--including Ericsson, Compaq Computer and Japan's Kyocera--are currently promoting "convergence" products, or handsets that combine wireless communications capabilities with the software applications and larger screens typically found on standard handheld computers.

Qualcomm's PDQ, which debuted in 1998 and was later sold to Kyocera, was one of the first devices to combine both features, but it was criticized for being large, clunky and expensive.

Since then, the products have become more streamlined. The Ericsson R380, which comes with a foldout keypad, is about the same size as a standard cell phone. The screen sits vertically inside the body of the handset, which was unveiled last month.

Kyocera, likewise, recently came out with its updated version of the PDQ, called the Smartphone.

Although wireless carriers will determine the price of Samsung's product, it will be in the range of $500--the same range targeted by Kyocera's Smartphone.

Landing Samsung, Palm is trying to continue building momentum in the handheld OS market. Palm, Microsoft and Symbian are all angling to sign OS licensing agreements with as many hardware manufacturers as possible.

Sony, Kyocera and Handspring, among others, have licensed Palm's OS for their devices. Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard have picked up Microsoft's Pocket PC operating system. Nokia and Ericsson, meanwhile, have adopted the EPOC OS from Symbian, a consortium of Nokia, Psion, Motorola, Ericsson and Matsushita Electric.

South Korea's Samsung is one of the top five handset manufacturers in the world and sold 17.7 million handsets last year, according to Gartner's Dataquest.

Although Samsung is known for phones not handheld computers, the company is actually trying to position the new device as a personal digital assistant.

"It's a PDA with a phone application," said Peter Skarzynski, vice president of sales and marketing for Samsung's wireless terminal division.

CNET News.com's Ian Fried contributed to this report.