By Dan Jones Palm Computing is becoming the platform of choice for handheld computers – in the US at least – despite a profusion of different models and a confused wireless strategy. The sheer weight and variety of applications demonstrated at PCExpo in New York yesterday show that Palm is becoming a standard by default. […]
By Dan Jones
Palm Computing is becoming the platform of choice for handheld computers – in the US at least – despite a profusion of different models and a confused wireless strategy. The sheer weight and variety of applications demonstrated at PCExpo in New York yesterday show that Palm is becoming a standard by default. Like Microsoft Corp’s Windows before it, software houses are willing to write around the gaps in the OS, providing the palmtops with remote wireless hardware and software, synchronization software, databases, security applications, productivity applications and consumer software.
Oracle Corp stole the show with demonstrations of the beta version of the Palm client software for its Oracle Lite database. The standalone Palm client, a 50K engine that can remotely replicate with the Oracle 8 database, will be available in the second quarter of this year. But Oracle will soon release desktop-based software -the Lite Consolidator – that synchronizes handheld data with an Oracle database. This reliance on the customer using an all-Oracle system is the main flaw in the Lite Palm client. Other firms, such as Pervasive Software Inc, are developing database software for the Palm that can synchronize with a variety of different databases.
A lot of other companies were demonstrating their own business applications for the Palm, particularly in the sales force automation and asset tracking fields. Oracle and SAP AG both have offerings available for the Palm, along with a host of smaller vendors. Remedy Corp was demonstrating a Palm client version of its Helpdesk software and Computer Associates Inc has integrated Palm with Unicenter TNG. A number of companies have also stepped in to write productivity suites and financial applications tailored to the Palm. At PCExpo, Synergy Inc was displaying its five-program suite, PPActivate, priced at $40. While Landware Inc displayed a version of Intuit’s Quicken accounting software for the handhelds.
The sheer variety of synchronization software now available for the Palm is dizzying, with over 40 programs out now or arriving soon. Typically, this software only allows the client to synchronize with one back-end application, be that an email server, a groupware program or a database. Yet, so far, this lack of an open synchronization method does not seem to have hurt Palm, with even more new proprietary replication methods on the horizon. As the market matures, this may become more of an issue for Palm but, as yet, no other palmtop device offers a single synchronization method either.
Wireless connectivity and internet access is also a vexed question for Palm, and its parent company, 3Com Corp. The Palm VII offers limited wireless coverage and a web-clipping service that provides tailored data from various content providers, but Palm is lagging behind third-party vendors in providing connectivity for all of the Palm devices. Novatel Wireless Inc has developed a hardware and software package that allows Palm III and IIIx users to log on to a CDPD network for $396, plus $40 to $60 airtime. The company has developed filtering software that converts web pages to plain text for speedier downloads to the small footprint devices. Novatel has partnered with Bell Atlantic Mobile and GT Mobile and others in an effort to get good network coverage in the US. In a similar vein, Qualcomm Inc was demonstrating its rather bulky pdq Smartphone, which is based around the guts of a Palm III. The company says that the phone can link to any CDMA network. Meanwhile, Proxinet Inc has developed a rival to the company Palm took a stake in last week, AvantGo Corp. The ProxiWeb client and ProxiWare server allow users to view compressed web pages, with SSL protocol security and Triple DES security.
This is the picture with Palm right now, a flawed platform that is flowering because of its strong presence in the market – an 80% share according to some reports. So, despite renewed competition from Microsoft, the arrival of EPOC-based Symbian Plc devic
es and the focused threat of Research In Motion Inc’s Blackberry and Inter@ctive pagers in the US, Palm is becoming the platform of choice through sheer weight of numbers.