Wireless Palms: What Are the Options?

by John Ochwat

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Palm Computing's dominant share in the handheld market gives it a comfortable position. But is it resting on its laurels and ceding the technological innovations of this year to other PDA developers?

In the high-tech community, "the buzz has gone off Palm a little," said Jill House, an analyst with International Data Corp. "Luckily for them, the consumer buzz has started to pick up as the tech buzz has worn off." Judging from its big three plays this year (a color-screened Palm, the less expensive M100 model, and the Claudia Schiffer model), Palm's playing to that consumer audience, which is not necessarily a bad thing for would-be Palm developers. But, House adds, "In terms of pushing the edge, forcing the markets to develop, they're a little behind. ... They're playing catch up with the Joneses in terms of technology."

The Joneses, in this case, work at Microsoft. The new PocketPCs (such as the Compaq iPaq) have improved features, such as smooth integration with the Windows desktop, the ability to play MP3s, and bright color screens. Most of all, they support a slide-on attachment that can carry a PC card, which means the handhelds are a wireless modem away from accessing the Internet.

What wireless options can Palm users tap into?

This spring, Palm CEO Carl Yankowski said that by the end of the year, all Palm handhelds will be able to connect wirelessly to the Internet. The top-of-the-line Palm VII has a built-in modem, so users can send and receive e-mail and short messages and browse the Web through its proprietary service, But how does Yankowski plan to get the older models unplugged and online?

Third parties to the rescue

Yankowski's plan looks less ambitious when you consider that, for the most part, it's already been achieved, thanks to third-party modems and services. Of Palm's four product lines, three can connect wireless to the Internet today: Palm VII, V, and III. There's no modem for the recently announced, low-end M100, but Palm's director of product marketing, Jim Kruger, says that one is in the works.

  Modem Wireless e-mail Wireless Web
Palm III

Novatel Minstrel III

Use Go America's Go.Web to access POP3 e-mail or OmniSky's client to access up to 6 POP accounts.

Use Go America or Omnisky to browse optimized sites or open URLs.

Palm V

Novatel Minstrel V

Use Go America's Go.Web to access POP3 e-mail or OmniSky's client to access up to 6 POP accounts.

Use Go America or Omnisky to browse optimized sites or open URLs.

Palm VII


Use address to send and receive e-mail via iMessenger

Browse "walled garden" of optimized sites. Must have downloaded a .pqa file for each site.

Palm M100




Palm III. There are four models of the Palm III; three of them can attach to a Novatel Minstrel III modem and sign up for service from Go America (a wireless ISP). The fourth model, the color-screened Palm IIIc, doesn't have a modem right now.

Palm V. Both versions of the Palm V can easily be connected to the Internet as well, either through Go America's service or by service from OmniSky (both use a Novatel Minstrel V modem).

Palm VII. The Palm VII has a built-in modem and uses Palm's proprietary service, Palm.Net, to connect to the Internet. Unlike the Go America and OmniSky services, users are limited to browsing a subset of web sites. (More about that below.)

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