Enterprise Technology for the Palm Computing Platform
Palm Computing is seeking to increase proliferation of the Palm Platform by aggressively licensing its OS. To date this has resulted in six companies selling versions of Palm OS hardware. This strategy has fostered a competition in which the consumer benefits with a range of many hardware options. These devices are summarized in Table 1 (see page 22.)
Palm Computing is, of course, the premier manufacturer of Palm OS hardware. They currently produce the Palm IIIe, IIIx, V, Vx and VII. The Palm IIIe, IIIx, and V use the MC68EZ328 DragonBall EZ processor running at 16 MHz. The DragonBall EZ is the upgraded version of the DragonBall that supports 16 gray scales. The Palm V and Vx have a much improved form factor featuring an anodized aluminum case approximately half the thickness of the III series. The Vx is the premier model offering 8MB of memory and a 20MHz version of the DragonBall EZ, making it faster than the V. The VII is based on the Palm III casing but has built in wireless capability. The Palm VII design was actually finalized before the introduction of the EZ processor, so is the only Palm currently for sale that still uses the original Motorola MC68328 DragonBall. While it consequently displays only four grays, it does have the improved screen of the Palm IIIx and IIIe. The wireless technology is lower cost than a cell modem but also lower bandwidth. This technology is described in detail below in the section on wireless networking technologies. Finally, Palm has announced that Palm OS 3.5 will support color, and Motorola has announced the 33 MHz MC68VZ328 processor that will handle 256 colors, so expect a color Palm device soon.
IBM offers a Palm V device called the IBM WorkPad c3. This is essentially an OEM Palm V with no noticeable differentiation from the Palm device, and there's a IIIx version, oddly called the WorkPad c5.
Qualcomm's pdQ is a cell phone with a built-in Palm OS device. The two technologies complement each other superbly. The Palm improves on the things you would typically expect a cell phone to do, while the cell phone improves on features you would expect to get from a Palm Computer. Calls can be automatically dialed after first finding the number in the Palm contact manager, and both outgoing and incoming calls can be tracked and redialed; and finally the wireless modem provides wireless web browsing for the Palm Computer. Unfortunately the physical size of the device is daunting as either a cell phone or PDA, although the next generation will certainly be much improved. The display was made slightly narrower to accommodate the needs of a cell phone.
Symbol, one of the first to license the Palm OS, makes Palm devices with built-in barcode scanners. The SPT1500 is based on the Palm III casing, while the 1700 is an all new ruggedized design available exclusively from Symbol. The PPT 2700 is a Windows CE version of the same device. The optional wireless LAN makes the Symbol a natural for medical or factory floor automation applications, although the price is intimidating. The basic SPT1500 has been used in London, England to allow their customers to order their groceries by scanning the products they need replaced before they go in the garbage; it also provides them with a checklist of items they are likely to buy based on past performance, and they can simply select them with a checkbox. When they're ready to order, they just HotSync with their home computer and the order is placed.
The TRGpro is the newest of the Palm clones and maybe the most exciting. It runs 25% faster than a typical Palm by changing some of the wait states. Among other improvements, it has a speaker that can play WAV files, and an industry standard Compact Flash expansion slot that allows interfacing with a number of third party devices. For example, SanDisk memory cards can add 128MB of solid state memory. Look for more coming soon. These devices support a FAT file system which is also supported by Microsoft Windows and Windows CE. This means that a memory card can be transferred between the Palm and desktop PC and read like a disk drive by either device. The slot also supports IBM's microdrive which makes available an amazing 340 megabytes of hard drive capacity. With this, the TRGpro puts the same storage capacity in your Palm that was standard on the desktop only a few years ago.
The manufacturer getting the most buzz is Handspring. Founded by the creators of the original Pilot (the Palm's name when it debuted), Handspring recently announced the Visor and Visor Deluxe handhelds. Running the Palm OS, these devices come with enhanced PIM applications but most importantly boast of the Springboard expansion module. The Springboard module is designed to allow third parties the ability to produce hardware accessories with relative ease and significantly higher throughput than is possible with any of the current Palm devices. With a Palm, all I/O is through the single serial port, but the Visor offers both the extremely fast Springboard slot and a very fast USB interface for HotSyncing. The USB interface allows a high rate of data exchange between the device and any peripheral. A host of Handspring modules have been announced including wireless modems, Bluetooth modules, analog-to-digital converters, and universal remote controls. Handspring seems to cater to the development community and strongly encourages third-party add-ons in both hardware and software.
Wireless Connectivity Technologies
Although many enterprise applications can be successfully implemented using LAN syncing technology, such as with Palm's new Ethernet cradle, real time applications will demand real time wireless connectivity. A number of options exist today for wireless connectivity to the Palm Platform. The products mentioned below are available today, but technology improvements are certain to come so quickly that additional options will probably be available by the time this article goes to press. In general, you cannot go wrong assuming higher bandwidth and lower cost devices will come down the pipeline.
The Palm VII has a built-in wireless modem that provides 8 Kbps-about one-seventh the data rate of a typical 56.6 Kbps wired modem-over the Bell South wireless network. Though it has relatively low bandwidth and high latency, Palm chose this technology for its broad coverage area and low cost. The service plan is available in three levels. For $9.99 per month you can receive 50KB, for $24.95, 150KB, and for $39.99, 300KB. All plans cost $.20 for each kilobyte over the allotted maximum.
To compensate for its low bandwidth, the Palm VII uses a web clipping paradigm to reduce the amount of data that needs to be sent over the network. A web clipping application, or .pqa, is essentially a static web page on the Palm device with key pieces of information missing. When the page is accessed, the wireless modem kicks in and fills in the missing fields from a live web query. So to get stock quotes, for example, the user enters stock symbols into a pre-built form stored locally on the device. When the query button is pressed, only the stock symbols are uploaded to the network. A minimal amount of data is returned filling in the values into a pre-built results page, complete with onboard graphics if necessary. Generic web browsing of non-pqa sites is not currently possible.
The Palm VII is easy to use and implement since it is integrated so tightly into the Palm Organizer, and its price is not too bad. The wait time to get data back can quickly get annoying, however and since the device is targeted at the general consumer market there is not yet much support for Enterprise-grade applications.
For applications needing more data, the Novatel Wireless Minstrel modem supplies up to 19.2 Kbps of bandwidth in a modem that attaches to a Palm III in the form of a cradle. Most of the real time stock trading applications have been implemented using this device and we can surely expect to see more use out of it for enterprise applications. The Minstrel uses CDPD technology which operates over the existing cellular networks.
As already mentioned in the Palm hardware section, the Qualcomm pdQ is cell phone with a built-in Palm computer. The cell phone can function as a 14.4 kbps CDMA modem. Though its large size is not a very attractive feature, it is nice to be able to carry both your cell phone and a Palm Computer in the same device.
Now that many carriers are offering cell phones with CDMA modem capability, there is not always a need to have a dedicated Palm interface. SprintPCS, for example, recently launched a service in which its standard cellphone can connect to an RS232 port for wireless modem capabilities. The cost is little more than its standard voice calling plans. Although marketed toward laptop users, there is no reason this cannot be used to connect directly to the Palm. With just a cellphone and a Palm Pilot, web browsing, email, and other Enterprise applications are instantly enabled.
OmniSky is the new joint venture between 3Com and Aether Technologies. This alliance is obvious and surprising competition with Palm's own Palm VII product, but now that Palm Computing is being spun off from 3Com, the alliance is making more sense. Unlike the current Palm VII, the device will work with wireless carriers worldwide to provide services to corporations and consumers over networks based on CDPD, GSM, TDMA, and CDMA protocols. OmniSky will also evolve its wireless service delivery platform through international alliances as the world's wireless infrastructure evolves.
OmniSky has secured an exclusive license to Novatel's new Minstrel V wireless modem, for the first part of 2000 at least, so that even Novatel cannot sell the modems. The Minstrel V modem enables OmniSky to provide users with services that surpass those offered for the Minstrel III. The alliance with 3Com allows the OmniSky service to use Palm VII's .pqa or Web Clipping applications as though they were running on a Palm VII. It also includes some other impressive software unique to OmniSky, such as enhanced, internet-savvy versions of the Palm Address Book, Date Book, To Do list and Memo Pad. Other partners in the operation include Riverbed Technologies, JP Systems, TRG Products, Synergy Solutions, and AvantGo. AT&T wireless will the premier telecommunications carrier for the service.
Wireless LAN technologies provide connectivity between a handheld device and a nearby base station-distances less than about 2,000 feet. This technology is ideal for applications such as hospital or factory-floor automation where the user will never stray far from a central location. It has the advantage that there is no need to pay a monthly service fee since connectivity is provided through the base station and existing LAN. It also has much greater bandwidth than most cellular solutions at 1 Mbps. As with all these technologies, bandwidth is sure to increase. The most popular wireless LAN product is the Spectrum24 Wireless LAN built into the Symbol 1740 which should soon be available at 10 Mbps.
One and two-way pagers
JP Systems offers solutions to interface Palms with one and two-way pagers, that are IrDA-enabled. Generally low cost, these applications do not provide much bandwidth. JP Systems sells a pager for $199. A service plan is also required ranging from $25 to $100 per month. As more and more options become available for Palm wireless connectivity, pager options seem less and less attractive. While using pagers for data synchronization is unlikely to be significant in the Enterprise space, you'll find most of the wireless providers shipping JP Systems software with their hardware. JP System's InfoBeam software works with IrDA-enabled cell phones as well.
Bluetooth is the codename for a technology specification for small form factor, low-cost, short range radio links between mobile PCs, mobile phones and other portable devices. Although there aren't many devices deployed yet, many expect Bluetooth to become the standard for wireless connectivity for handheld devices. Bluetooth is not designed to be a completely independent wireless solution, however. It is designed to link a device to a local information source, such as a LAN or home network, automatically syncing the device when it is in range. Public nodes could be set up at major shopping centers or public transit areas, allowing devices to re-sync or even access the web while in that local area. When out of range, though, the Bluetooth-enabled device would need to commandeer your cell phone (which would also need to be Bluetooth-enabled) and dial up for network access.
Bluetooth modules have been announced for the Handspring Visor and TRGpro. Though not yet a viable solution in today's Enterprise environment, look to Bluetooth to lead the way for the future.
Go to part 3 of 4: Software