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New Palm handhelds coming Monday

Palm Computing will launch its Palm Vx and wireless Palm VII handheld computers on Monday, sources say, adding new products to an increasingly crowded segment of the market.

Palm Computing will launch its Palm Vx and wireless Palm VII handheld computers on Monday, sources say, adding new products to an increasingly crowded segment of the market.

The 3Com subsidiary--which is due to be spun off into an independent company by the end of the year--will introduce the Palm VII and its complementary wireless Internet service nationwide Monday, sources say. And, as first reported by CNET News.com, Palm will also introduce the Palm Vx, an upgraded version of its slim Palm V, that same day.

The new products come at a particularly momentous time for the soon-to-be independent company. Although Palm is still far and away the most popular handheld computer by almost any count--including market share, units shipped, or number of third-party software developers--the company faces more competition now than at any time in its existence.

In the last month, start-up Handspring, formed by Palm's co-founders, has generated buzz and good reviews for its Visor handheld, which is based on the Palm operating system. The Visor packs a particularly potent punch: The device can be upgraded to add MP3, wireless connectivity, digital camera functionality, and more. The Handspring device will also be priced lower than any existing Palm.

In addition, Microsoft's scaled-down Windows CE operating system is expected to be revamped and become more competitive early next year. Microsoft and its hardware partners have been pushing handhelds featuring Windows CE, but so far the various devices have not made a significant dent in Palm's popularity.

Cell phones and interactive pagers also are increasingly offering applications and features similar to those available on digital organizers.

Palm has fought back by flooding the market with new devices. In the last year, the company has released the Palm III, IIIx, IIIe, V, and now VII and Vx. All have the same operating system but come with different bells and whistles.

Ten months after its unveiling last December, the Palm VII will be officially available nationwide on Monday, sources say. Palm did not return calls for comment. The company generally declines to comment on unannounced products.

Although widely available through online resellers, the Palm VII has only been officially sold in the New York area for the last six months. The company has been conducting user trials, tweaking the pricing and usage plans, according to Palm president Alan Kessler, in a recent interview with CNET News.com.

The Palm VII, which resembles a Palm III device with a wireless antenna, was introduced in New York this May for an estimated retail price of $599.

The Palm.net wireless Internet service, which offers content from selected providers through Palm's proprietary Web clipping technology, had been criticized for its preliminary pricing scheme and limitations of the service.

Palm initially said it would charge a base fee of $9 per month for limited Palm.net service, and $25 per month for 18 Web queries a day. Many beta testers reportedly exceeded the limits of the service, incurring large service charges. Palm.net's messaging service was fundamentally flawed, some testers said, because it assigned yet another email address to keep track of and was prohibitively expensive to use heavily.

Meanwhile, the Palm Vx, based on the Palm V slim design and enhanced display, significantly expands the memory, from 2MB to 8MB. In addition, the Palm Vx is expected to run on a faster processor and revamped operating system and synchronization software, according to an item posted on the Palm Computing online store, which has since been removed.

Palm.net has said it will offer content from the Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, UPS, ABCNEWS.com, Bank of America, ESPN.com, E*Trade, Fodor's, MapQuest, MasterCard, Merriam-Webster, Moviefone, TheStreet.com, and more.

Palm.net content partners prepare information in a query-response form, allowing Palm VII users to access the information they need with minimal interaction with the Internet itself. Palm executives have said previously that this type of pared-down service is necessary to optimize Internet content for such a small device, but it is a burden on Web publishers who have to repackage their content.