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Palm sets its sights on retailing

Palm CEO Carl Yankowski unveils eWallet at the Computer Electronics Show, an upcoming feature that will allow consumers to buy products and services with their handhelds.

LAS VEGAS--Every company has an ambition, and Palm?s is nothing less than to revolutionize retailing.

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Yankowski plugs Palm's eWallet
Carl Yankowski, CEO, Palm
Palm CEO Carl Yankowski unveiled eWallet at the Computer Electronics Show on Saturday, an upcoming feature that will allow Palm users to buy products and services via their handhelds.

"The handheld will be transformed into a wallet this year," said Yankowski, "and it will act as a debit card in your Palm with a secure IR connection which will replace a card swipe."

Through an alliance with Ingenico, Visa and Hewlett-Packard subsidiary VeriFone, eWallet will let consumers conduct secure purchases by beaming personal information through the infrared port found on most Palms.

Ingenico and VeriFone will manufacture the point-of-sales terminals. VeriFone will also ensure that the payments are secure. The two-way infrared communication between the device and the Ingenico terminal allows a receipt to be sent directly to the Palm device. Palm will eventually allow other third-party content to be sent over when a Palm device and a terminal interact.

By the next holiday season, people will purchase gifts by beaming, he predicted.

To demonstrate that he wasn't just talking about vaporware--products and services that never make past the drawing board--Yankowski made the first purchase using eWallet technology. The Palm CEO bought an atomic watch, a car cell phone system, and Sony's Aibo dog from high-end retailer Sharper Image.

Once the infrastructure exists, two-way infrared beaming will enable other functions, including automatic record keeping, the collection of eCoupons and updates of loyalty programs such as airline mileage and hotel stays.

Yankowski also announced another hardware licensee of the Palm OS. Garmin, a maker of global position satellite products, will incorporate the operating system into a new line of handhelds that will likely reach market early next year.

Despite the new features, Palm will keep to its Bauhaus-like design ethic, a point Yankowski drove home his point during his keynote speech at Consumer Electronics Show, literally. The Bauhaus School was a German design school founded in 1919.

Yankowski made his entrance in his 25-year-old fully restored VW Super Beetle as a way to emphasize that classic design is always very successful because it's hard to forget.

Palm, with its design, falls into the same category, he asserted. However, he added that the company wasn't going to wait 25 years to see how successful the Palm would be. He was there to show, "that the revolution has just begun and I'm here to show you the future of the Palm."