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Palm Column

PQAs aren't just for Sevens anymore

by Shawn Barnett
June 2000, issue 34

Bluetooth, Bluetooth, Bluetooth. Just like most of you, I'm tired of hearing about products that never seem to come to fruition. Bluetooth is one of the longest running and most annoying to come along in some time, taking its place with other frustrating multinational corporate consortium promises like Symbian and HDTV. And what the heck is a Bluetooth anyway? I think I'm going to start a consortium and call it Yellowtoe or Greenear. More on that later.

Well, at the risk of blowing more smoke in your ear, it's looking like Bluetooth just may happen, on one platform at least. Floating here among this text is a prototype of a snap-on Bluetooth module on a Palm V. It is a prototype, mind you, and I was warned that people would criticize it immediately for the large antenna. The end product will not be as big, and Palm tells me that not only will the technology eventually be integrated into every shipping Palm device, every existing Palm device currently in the hands of users will be able to accept a snap-on adapter similar to the one shown to enable wireless Bluetooth for everyone.

So?! What do you mean so?! In case you haven't heard, Bluetooth enables communication without wires. One of the nice concepts shown at the press conference I attended was a triad solution involving a Palm, a cell phone, and an earbud. There were no wires involved. You stuck the earbud in your ear and pointed the boom mike to your mouth. Then you held the Palm in one hand, and your pen in the other. Where is the phone? Clipped to your belt. You dial the phone by tapping on the appropriate Address Book entry in your Palm, and you speak to the person you've called through the earbud. Pretty cool.

Further to that, using the same solution, you can call up a Palm Query Application, such as our new Pen News PQA, which normally runs only on a Palm VII or OmniSky Minstrel V, and your cell phone automatically connects and gets the data you need. Also cool.

But that's in the future, say, 12 months away. Palm is planning on making PQAs ubiquitous across the Palm platform a little sooner. Communication with the network will be via landline, Bluetooth, or IrDA, and perhaps other wireless standards, like 802.11. The first wireless method to be used will likely be IrDA, since it exists already on the Palm, and is appearing in more and more cell phones. I watched with interest as one of the Palm guys held his Motorola cell phone upside down over his Palm V and checked the sports scores from the ESPN PQA via IrDA. It's possible today; all we need is the software to be enabled, like it obviously was on this guy's machine.

Another technology they said they were working on is called Smart HotSync. This is a standard that would allow you to HotSync your Palm via Bluetooth from wherever you are, via whatever connection you have. The smarts come in when it comes to downloading large files. You may want to download a large MP3 file into your Palm, but it would take too long over the narrow-bandwidth Bluetooth connection (is MP3 playback coming to the Palm? I don't know, but this is an example they gave). So you make your selection, which marks them for download later when you put the Palm in its cradle, where there's a higher bandwidth connection.

I played with a very fun demo that ran on the Bluetooth prototype snap-ons. It was a simple whiteboard program, where every scribble you wrote on one appeared on the other. It worked in real time, with no perceptible delay. It was bidirectional, so both of us could write at the same time, and both scribble streams appeared simultaneously. The guy doing the demo wanted to show me how far it would work, so he left the room, ran down the hall and halfway down the steps that passed through the mezzanine of the hotel we were in before connection was lost. That was further than I though Bluetooth is supposed to work, and through a wall no less. That's not to say a finished product will perform like that, but wouldn't it be great if it did? The units we were using connected by entering an address and giving permission to link. In the future, each Palm can be given any name you want, including just your HotSync name.

It sounds like whole new worlds are about to open up to Palm users. My Palm VII is so valuable to me that it is the unit I take with me everywhere. Even if I don't bring a cell phone, I have the Seven. So the obvious answer to the question of which Palm I carry most often is the Seven, though I do carry the others for other reasons which are outlined in my "Which Palm shall I carry?" column. I have no idea how many people have purchased Palm VIIs, but I can say that other Palm users have been missing out on a very handy tool. It is encouraging to know that soon all Palm users will be able to take advantage of having a wireless data device with them at all times if they so choose.

One of the final items they told us about was the possibility of a snap-on that would not only be wireless, but also a cell phone for voice communication. The executive held up an OmniSky Minstrel V and said, "It's going to look a lot like this." Wow. Wouldn't that be great? Especially if it had the wireless earbud. I don't know about you, but based on this meeting, I'm looking forward to the next PalmSource.

Oh, and apparently, Bluetooth refers to the Danish King Harald Blatland who unified Denmark and Norway. "Blatland" means Bluetooth, which is synonymous with "unification" in one of the countries that is largely responsible for most of our wireless goodies. Since the goal of Bluetooth is to unify telephones and computers, I guess it fits after all.

Shawn Barnett can be reached via e-mail at

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