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TI creates blueprint for wireless Visor add-ons

The move is a way for Texas Instruments to bring in more revenue because the blueprint is built around its chips for cell phones and personal digital assistants.

Texas Instruments said today it is developing a blueprint for companies that want to build next-generation wireless cartridges for Handspring's Visor handheld computer.

The reference design is basically a way for TI to bring in more revenue because the blueprint is built around its own chips for cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). For the add-on cartridge makers, TI's move is also a boon because adopting a blueprint can cut down on the time and cost of product development.

Last week, TI lowered expectations for sales of its chips for cell phones, noting that more cell phones are being built than there is demand for.

Handspring's Visor is based on the Palm operating system and generally resembles a Palm device, with the exception of the Springboard expansion slot. Add-on cartridges snap into the Springboard slot.

Numerous add-on cartridges have either been launched or unveiled since the Visor hit the market last year. They include add-ons for wireless Internet access, traditional cell phone capabilities, two-way messaging, a global positioning system, an MP3 player and games.

Handspring has been on a roll in the wireless arena lately. Earlier this week, the company announced the VisorPhone, a Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM) add-on cartridge that essentially turns the Visor into a cell phone.

TI's Handspring module blueprint will use the same software interface as Handspring's VisorPhone module, which includes software that integrates the phone into the Visor address book and allows people to call their contacts directly from the address book.

The cartridges, based on TI's new blueprint, will specifically act as a 3G wireless modem. 3G, or third generation, wireless networks offer much higher data transmission speeds than today's wireless services. Services based on these new networks will come out in the next few years.

TI's blueprint is based on its Open Multimedia Applications Platform (OMAP), an architecture that consists of a single chip that combines an ARM microprocessor core and a TI digital signal processor, which provides audio and video capabilities.

Because the OMAP technology is designed to be more processor-efficient than traditional mobile devices, TI believes that the blueprint will be attractive to companies that want to create add-on software for cell phones and PDAs.

"One of the fundamental aspects of OMAP is that it's a very efficient and effective hardware platform," said Randy Ostler, the wireless computing marketing manager for TI's wireless business unit, adding that these types of chip architectures will allow new applications to be loaded on these devices.

"Traditionally, the wireless space has been embedded, with all the software shipped on the phone," Ostler said. "With this, applications will begin to dominate the value of these devices, and developers will want applications that can run at a high performance level without wearing down the battery too fast."

Microsoft and the Symbian cell phone alliance, which includes Ericsson and Nokia, have already committed to using TI's OMAP technology. OMAP competes with similar initiatives from Intel and Motorola, which have also focused on mobile devices and wireless Internet access as potential future high-growth areas.