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Philips' Palm app woos couch potatoes

The company brings TV channel surfing to Palm OS-based handhelds with software that lets the devices serve as remote controls.

Philips introduced software Wednesday that lets handhelds running the Palm operating system remotely control household devices such as televisions, video recorders and CD players.

Called ProntoLite, after Philips' Pronto universal remote control, the $19.95 software lets a Palm OS-based personal digital assistant control up to 10 different consumer-electronics devices. The maximum operating distance depends on the infrared ports of the handheld and the device, but the typical distance is 10 feet to 13 feet, according to Philips. The electronics maker and Palm are working on an extension module to expand the reach of infrared ports on PDAs.

A free 15-day evaluation copy of the software is available on the Philips Pronto Web site.

Sony and Hewlett-Packard have handhelds in the market with similar remote-control software. Analysts have said that while the remote-control technology isn't revolutionary, it gives consumers another reason to buy a PDA and bolsters the notion that handhelds can be an all-in-one device. It also points to the convergence of PC- and entertainment-related technologies that many have predicted, but that so far has failed to catch on with mainstream consumers.

Sony was the first handheld maker to release a PDA with universal remote control software, launched as the company expanded its strategy of focusing its handheld efforts on entertainment. Philips does not currently sell a handheld device.