Friday, February 1, 2002

What the heck is wireless data conferencing?


By Paul Moreton and Michael Compeau

On the eve of the fifth annual PalmSource conference, the question that's on everyone's mind is: "What's next for handhelds?"

The answer is, without a doubt, wireless connectivity. On January 28, Palm, Inc. released the Palm i705, an update of its popular line of wireless Palm VII handhelds. In a January 15, 2002 press interview, Handspring's Donna Dubinsky made their wireless intentions clear. "We are a company that is transitioning out of the organizer business and into the communicator business," Dubinsky said. "At some point, we will have transitioned out of the organizer business."

"Professionals away from the office require as much or even more information than when they're in the office."

Palm, HandEra, and Sony are pushing wireless connectivity with Bluetooth and WiFi (802.11b wireless LAN) wireless accessories and software. Prices are falling, and the technology is becoming more common. The hybrid devices, such as the Handspring Treo and the Samsung I300, are hot. The new products and Handspring's new direction are evidence of a clear shift in the market.

In the beginning

Five years ago, Cutting Edge Software introduced Quicksheet, one of the first commercial Palm OS applications. At that time, during the wee hours of the Palm computer's infancy, most people thought the concept of squeezing spreadsheets onto a 2 3/8" square screen was one of sheer lunacy, and that it would never sell enough copies to pay for a copy of CodeWarrior. My, have we come a long way! Since then, office-style applications have consistently been the largest selling segment of the Palm OS applications market.

The connected organizer grows up

A new breed of connected devices is about to change the Palm OS landscape and lead to both new users and new software blood coursing through the devices' circuits. Customers are beginning to seek applications that include a different level of connectivity. Why? Professionals away from the office require as much or even more information than when they're in the office. For instance, consultants often need input from an office peer to review a spreadsheet model, to make refinements to a presentation, or to "leverage" a previous document.