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TRG beefs up handheld for businesses

TRG will unveil its first handheld computer on Monday, the second firm to launch a device based on Palm software in as many months and the first to specifically target the business user.

TRG will unveil its first handheld computer on Monday, the second firm to launch a device based on Palm software in as many months and the first to specifically target the business user.

The introduction of the new TRGpro, coming on the heels of Palm Computing's licensing deal with hardware maker Nokia this week, is Palm's latest move to cement its market dominance by aggressively licensing its operating system and application software. TRG will show off the device at the PalmSource developer's conference in Santa Clara, California.

The TRGpro will resemble a Palm IIIx in design, sources said, and offer 8MB of memory and 2MB of flash memory, which can be used to store and upgrade software applications. TRG upgraded the audio player in the device for voice quality playback and added recognition for Microsoft file extensions.

Thus far, Palm's licensees appear to be taking a completely opposite tack than manufacturers of devices based on Microsoft's scaled down Windows CE operating system, which include Casio, Hewlett-Packard, and Compaq. While Microsoft-based manufacturers like Casio pack digital cameras, music players, and color displays into the handheld devices, makers of Palm clones are focusing on creating pared-down devices which can be upgraded through expansion slots.

Last month, start-up Handspring announced its much-anticipated first product, the Visor. Founded by Palm's Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, Handspring's first Palm-based device was notable mainly for the Springboard expansion slot, which will eventually allow the device to be upgraded by inserting proprietary cartridges. These add-on cards will turn the Visor into an MP3 music player, digital camera, global positioning system, or wireless modem, depending on the specific cartridge, Handspring has said.

The TRGpro will offer a similar expansion slot, but it's tailoring its device for the business market. Rather than an expansion slot which only accepts proprietary cartridges from approved third-party companies, the TRGpro can be upgraded using any standard CompactFlash card, sources say.

"By combining CompactFlash with the common Palm interface, the TRGpro enables mobile professionals to access custom applications and information normally confined to a desktop PC," according to TRG marketing materials.

Analysts have pointed to large companies as a potentially lucrative and untapped market for handheld device makers.

"If you look at the enterprise, any device needs to provide certain standard features like more memory and standard interfaces for common products and services," said Jill House, an analyst with International Data Corporation, earlier this week, noting that some business groups like sales and service employees will demand more resources for their specific needs. "If you have a back-end application or any sort of deployed application you need a little more space on the device."

A recent study by market research firm Gartner Group concluded that many businesses are wasting resources by not actively supporting employees who use PDAs. The survey found that a $450 handheld device can cost up to $2,700 per year in support costs for businesses.

Businesses can upgrade the TRG device with an ethernet card or additional storage, for example. In addition, the TRGpro will come with CFPro software to move applications to and from the compact flash card. The device can also be modified for specific customers.