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Trend Lines - The Next Great Thing

Trend Lines - The Next Great Thing

What will the handhelds of 2000 be like? As with cell phones, they'll get more useful and less expensive until everyone -- as opposed to just white-collar men, who account for 92 percent of PDA sales -- wants one. But they're not there yet.

A variety of companies are making new handhelds, and each product mirrors the core business of its manufacturer. For example, IBM Corp.'s Net-ready handhelds look like tiny notebook computers. The WorkPad Z50, available now for under $1,000, is a 2.66-pound, 1-inch-thick, Windows CE-based device with an 8.2-inch VGA display, reduced keyboard and 33.6 Kbps (wired) modem. IBM also has several products in the prototype stage, including the CyberPhone, a tiny Web browsing computer/phone/pager with voice recognition, and the WatchPad, a color Web browser for modern-day Dick Tracys. Even Apple, all juiced up from sales of fruit-colored iMacs, plans to offer a handheld Mac later this year.

But computer manufacturers might not be the place to look for the next hot handheld. "I haven't seen anything that's ubercompelling," says Jill House, a research analyst at IDC. She sees more cutting-edge development in the smart-phone sphere. Qualcomm's pdQ smart-phone, for instance, uses the Palm Computing OS. It comes with a browser, and users can simply tap an entry in the address book to send an e-mail. Nokia's 9110, available in Europe and Asia, integrates phone, fax, Internet, e-mail and typical PDA functions into a clamshell-style phone using the GEOS operating system, made by Geoworks in Alameda, California. The Ericsson R380 wins for geek appeal, with its built-in wireless modem, slick user interface (based on the operating system found in the Psion handheld computer), generously sized backlit touchscreen, e-mail, text-based Web browser, calendar, contact list and PC synchronization.

And what about the PDA that started it all? Palm Computer is now owned by 3Com, which purchased the company in 1996 from U.S. Robotics, which bought Palm in 1995. The Palm line of products enjoys a 77 percent share in the PDA market today and has more than 15,000 third-party software developers making programs for the platform. It also has the Palm VII, an Internet-ready wireless unit that can send and receive short e-mail messages and receive "Web clippings" -- snippets from select services like Yahoo, Bank of America, Ticketmaster, and MapQuest.

But Palm inventors Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky have left 3Com to start Handspring, which now has 30 employees and is developing handheld devices that will use and extend the Palm OS. Though Hawkins won't say exactly what they're working on, Dubinsky has hinted that a low-cost consumer device will be available for the 1999 holiday season.

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