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Handspring Visor lands in Asia

Palm's rival is set to enter the Japanese market with a localized version of its Visor handheld computers by next quarter

Culture
KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia--Palm rival Handspring is set to enter the Japanese market with a localized version of its Visor handheld computers by next quarter, co-founder Donna Dubinsky said.

"Our plan is to be in the Japanese market by second quarter this year. We have already established an office in Tokyo. We intend to enter Asia via Japan first, then into other markets," she responded in an email to CNET Malaysia.

She added the company has not finalized plans for localized versions of the Visor in other Asian markets yet. "We can't really do Korean or Chinese versions until Palm localizes the PalmOS into those languages." Handspring is a licensee of the Palm operating system.

Dubinsky and co-founder Jeff Hawkins were also both co-creators of the popular Palm series, the current market leaders in the handheld computing space.

She declined to disclose current sales figures but added: "We are very pleased with the customer response, it has exceeded our expectations."

Since its launch in September, the Visor has been selling briskly over the Internet, and early news reports cite that Handspring was so overwhelmed with orders that it had trouble keeping up. Some irate customers have vented on the Internet on delays in receiving their devices.

Analysts have predicted that Handspring may snatch a significant piece of marketshare from Palm because of built-in support for Universal Serial Bus and various add-on functions.

The Visor has an expansion slot system called Springboard for plug-and-play third-party modules that can potentially turn it into everything from a bar code scanner to a cellular phone, digital camera, MP3 player, or global positioning system.

Handspring is backed by venture capitalists Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Benchmark Capital.

Research firm Dataquest estimates demand for handheld computers will grow from 8.2 million units in 1998 to 32.5 million units in 2003 to a market worth of about US$7.2 billion.

Meanwhile, Sharon Ee, group marketing manager, Palm Asia Pacific, said the company is experiencing significant success in Singapore, Malaysia, Hongkong, Australia and New Zealand.

"Palm's international business accounted for 32 percent for the first six months of fiscal 2000, up from 25 percent of revenues for the first six months of fiscal 1999," she said.

She said Palm has already set up offices in Japan, Australia, Hongkong and Singapore and was keen on nurturing the developer community for local markets. Palm is backed by over 33,000 developers worldwide and has more than 500 third-party hardware add-ons and accessories.

Ee said the Japanese version of PalmOS was launched in February last year, and that there were a number of third-party solutions for data viewing and input in Chinese, both traditional and simplified, Korean, Thai and other languages.

Palm, which was spun off from 3Com Corp last week in an initial public offering, has indicated its long-term plans to transition into a licensing company and let others manufacture the devices. Apart from Handspring, it has also licensed Motorola, Nokia and Sony.

On another issue, Ee said the company was currently in communication with Malaysian authorities for slapping a 10 percent tax on Palm handhelds since October 1999, despite the fact Malaysia had abolished tax and import duty on all computers and related accessories in 1996.

Customs authorities had said the tax was imposed because Palm was classified as an electronic organizer and not a computing device.

Both Handspring's Dubinsky and Palm's Ee also declined to comment on a suit brought by smartcard vendor E-Pass Technologies against 3Com alleging the PalmPilot electronic organizer infringed on a 1994 patent by E-Pass founder Hartmut Hennige.

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