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What's Up at Palm?

What's Up at Palm?

Interview with Ted Ladd, formerly lead evangelist, Platform Group, Palm, Inc.

WBT: Can you tell us a little about the two recent Palm releases - the m100 and the Palm VIIx?

TL: Let me answer, if I may, from a platform perspective. (When I say Palm I am including the Palm device business and the Palm licensees team - like Sony, Nokia, Motorola.) Handheld devices right now are separating into two different segments. The first segment is for your grandmother. These are low-cost devices with basic functionality, tried-and-true technologies aimed at people who need handheld computers but don't necessarily even have a laptop or desktop computer. Technological neophytes basically, just people who want the personal organizer-type features of the Palm. Previously that meant the Palm III series; now it's the m100. From what I've seen of the reviews and some of the early numbers, it is doing very well.

WBT: And then there's the Palm VIIx, which is for the higher end of the market.

TL: Exactly. The second segment is the high-technology stuff, which is pushing the market, being more aggressive and creative with the technology stuff. The Palm VII was the first incarnation of this. The Palm VIIx adds more memory to that, but as Palm goes forward, you're going to see the company and its licensees being much more creative in the high-tech space. They're going to be playing with the basic functionalities and technologies that you already know. Things like battery power, wireless connectivity, screen - these are the elements that they're going to start to push the frontiers on.

WBT: Is Palm going to continue with both branches, both the lower end and the higher end?

TL: In the Palm device business, yes, but again, the licensees are all taking interesting approaches to this too. I would guess - and this is pure speculation, remember - that Nokia is going to produce an integrated wireless device, data and voice. Since all they do is integrated data and voice, it's a pretty good bet. Which means that that is going to be a fairly high-tech piece of machinery. Some serious little iron, so to speak.

WBT: Is Palm itself looking to do any such devices or are they looking to leave voice capabilities to their licensees?

TL: Palm is exploring a lot of different options, but they haven't announced that in their road map. So they're considering it, but let me assure you that they don't see the market as moving only to data and voice dual devices. It's not always going to be an integrated base.

WBT: Which way, then, do you think they want to go?

TL: There are currently different ways for Palm devices to connect to the Internet. The first is an integrated device like the Palm VII, with an antenna. The second is taking advantage of expansion capabilities, so these are snap-on or plug-in capabilities.

WBT: Would that be for a modem or a phone line?

TL: Well, for example, the Novatel Minstrel, the modem that attaches to the Palm III or Palm V, that's an example of a snap-on. A plug-in would be something like a HandSpring module, which provides wireless. And Palm itself has recently announced, so this is the Palm device business, their own expansion intentions.

WBT: When should the next generation of Palm products be announced?

TL: Probably spring of this year - that's the typical consumer electronics product life cycle.

WBT: What else is planned for the next product life cycle of Palm?

TL: Just what we've talked about so far: expansion. Obviously Palm is always pushing on those core three: batteries, screens, and wireless. One option for wireless is the software product they announced last May, the Palm Mobile Internet Kit. This allows any Palm device, specifically any Palm handheld that can be upgraded to Palm OS 3.5, to become a wireless device. It's a piece of software that allows you to connect to the Internet and get Web-clipping content using a cell phone. And that's a data-capable cell phone. It doesn't have to be an Internet-ready cell phone.

WBT: Is that over infrared or cable?

TL: It can work either way - whatever your phone is ready to do. And this is based on a couple of different assumptions from Palm: the assumption that many users need a handheld organizer and infrequent access to the Internet, and that they already have a cell phone.

WBT: What about Bluetooth support? Is that going to be built in, or is it going to be for sale as an expansion pack as you mentioned?

TL: It will probably be via expansion, I think, because many users aren't necessarily going to want it. Bluetooth is a chicken-and-egg problem. If you have a single Bluetooth-enabled telephone and no other Bluetooth-enabled devices, it's a total waste of time. So until there are other Bluetooth products out there to which your Bluetooth-enabled telephone or Bluetooth-enabled Palm can connect, it's not that useful.

WBT: Does Palm plan on waiting until more Bluetooth technologies show up in the field before integrating them into Palms?

TL: For integration, perhaps, but Palm has actually already demonstrated a Bluetooth case, so they've already demonstrated Bluetooth expandability as a snap-on. They did it with the Palm V.

WBT: Is that something that's going to be available directly through Palm as a Bluetooth extension?

TL: That's the plan, yes. The date for that is probably spring or summer of this year, so it's a little bit further out. It's an engineering challenge.

WBT: What about the international plans for Palm, as far as their working in Europe, via the wireless networks over there?

TL: All of the licensees have full intentions to produce GSM-based devices. The Mobile Internet Kit, obviously, works incredibly well in Europe because all GSM phones are data ready.

WBT: Is that something that's already available today?

TL: The Palm Mobile Internet Kit was released on November 13, yes. What it provides is something you can probably already send, that is, Web clippings. This is the technology that runs the Palm VII and the OmniSky servers.

WBT: Will that allow a company to create its own channels for the Palm?

TL: Exactly. Using entirely HTML.

WBT: Then is the data itself going to be transmitted through Palm? Or is it going to be an application on the server of the company that wants to provide it?

TL: It's both. There's a proxy server in the middle and right now OmniSky and www.Palm.net have a proxy server. But the content itself emanates directly from the host server. If you're looking at Amazon, you're actually hitting Amazon's own servers. If you're looking at your own corporate intranet data, you're hitting your own corporate Web server.

WBT: Are there changes that have to be made to the HTML as far as stripping down the graphics is concerned?

TL: Actually, graphics are still fully allowed. Primarily it's a subset of 3.2, so again Palm selected HTML because it's a universal language and they didn't want to mess with it. They just added optional tags to allow other functionality like location awareness. For the most part it's straight-up-the-pike HTML 3.2.

WBT: Can you explain a little more about what those additional tags do?

TL: Sure. There's a zip code tag that allows the Web server to pull the zip code where the unit is actually operating at the time.

WBT: Is that through the GPS?

TL: No. Actually it's through the tower. It's approximate - it's called "poor man's GPS." You're pulling it from the tower that the device is hitting.

WBT: What about the other tags?

TL: There's a device ID tag that allows the Web server to authenticate the device.

WBT: Would that be via a cookie?

TL: There's, like, a server-side cookie. Cookies take up a lot of space, memory, and transmission bandwidth, so only a few are kept on the device. There are other more technical tags. One is called Palm Call, which allows the Web clipping application transition into other onboard applications like the address book.

WBT: What other tools are available today for developers looking to develop before the Palm OS?

TL: There's a whole category of development named "Conduit." These are apps for moving information from the desktop to the device through the cradle. Then there are HotSync server modules. HotSync server is taking info directly from the server to the device either from the cradle or an Ethernet cradle. So that's also a new product that's still available for that. Conduit is literally a mapping routine, while HotSync is the engine that pushes data around. Conduit just tells you from where to where. For example, on your Outlook it takes the data corresponding to the last name of the record and maps it to the last name in the Palm OS address book. This gets extremely complicated when you start burning around in files like a Microsoft Word header, to convert that to a Palm data file. So most of the Conduit expertise lies in working not on the Palm side of things, but instead working on the desktop side whether you're on a Mac or Windows machine or on a UNIX box. And then moving to the Palm OS application development itself, there are GPS tools, there are a few Java Virtual Machines, there's a beta from Sun and a beta from IBM. But far and away the most popular and powerful tool is a C-based integrated development environment developed by Metrowerks - CodeWarrior. There are also a few interesting tools for people who aren't up in applications. Satellite forms, produced by Puma, for example, is a WYSIWYG drop-drag application creator.

WBT: How does that work?

TL: Satellite forms is to a Palm OS application as Microsoft Front Page is to an HTML page. You have a toolbar and you grab a button and drag it over and you write the text in and a little window pops up and asks what you want this button to do. A lot of people are using that to mock up applications. It's not necessarily powerful enough to create a full-blown working application in the same way that Microsoft Front Page is, not powerful enough to create a commercial Web site, but it's great for prototypes. One last tool is for Web clipping, which is HTML-based. For that you can use any HTML text editor, or any text editor that you've written HTML in and then Palm has a simple little compiler that allows you to convert a small piece of it to a Palm OS application.

WBT: The last area we want to cover is about security on the Palm. There has been a lot in the press about various viruses that have made their way onto the Palm Pilot. What has Palm planned to try and prevent that in the future, and what about security for other sorts of data transmissions?

TL: This is a pretty big topic. Let me first touch on some of the major issues and then we can delve down into some of them. Let's start with the viruses. The first one was a Trojan horse. It was an application that was created by a developer to intentionally erase some databases that his application was creating. Then someone else got hold of it and rerigged it to delete other databases. The circulation was probably three or four people in the world, so in terms of the 8-plus million direct Palm users, its effects are nil. What Palm recommends to their user base is to go through www.palm.com, where any software has first been scrutinized by their developer community and user community - just as for Windows software you don't go to some underground site and pull down something as a downloadable file, you go through C/Net or ZDNet. Another line of defense is backing up your data. HotSync is an incredibly useful tool for this. Palm devices are somewhat resilient and rugged, but say I am clumsy and I drop this thing frequently. Then I drop it and it's irretrievably damaged. Well, one HotSync later, I am up and running. The last line of defense is antivirus software programs. There are two different ones, one by Symantec and one by McAfee. Each takes a slightly different approach to virus protection. So they are interesting solutions, but in my opinion they are unwarranted at this stage of the game. There are no pernicious viruses that will harm the typical user's data.

WBT: And what about the security for wireless transmission?

TL: The Palm VII uses Certicom, which has an elliptical curve. Cryptography - this is somewhat the equivalent of an apples-to-oranges comparison, but 1064-bit encryption. Nobody is getting through that for a while! Then, on the Internet side, once this stuff goes through the proxy server, they use SSL industrial-strength Internet encryption so that whenever you buy a book from Amazon, for example, using Web clipping and the Palm VII, you're just using HTTP's SSL layer and your 128-bit and your average plan.

WBT: What Palm do you use yourself?

TL: I use a Vx.

WBT: Any last remarks for WBT readers?

TL: I'd urge them to take a look at www.PalmOS.com. This site was created for developers. One of the powers of the platform is that they have many hardware manufacturers creating products for it. Some of them are competing with each other at retail -  for example, a HandSpring device and a Palm III are competing with one another. In this way Palm is growing the market, so that both companies will do better. PalmOS.com is the platform Web site for developers where Palm can harness the fact that this is a common operating system. If you write one application for one licensee, it will work for all licensees. In terms of technical support, Palm has a partner called Hot Dispatch. These folks are providing one-off technical support because the size of the developer community has totally swamped Palm's resources. It's a nice problem to have. Palm now has in excess of 110,000 developers. Hot Dispatch is offering technical support to some of these developers who need answers faster than Palm's own developer resources are able to respond to. Palm is happy about that; it is a big step for them.

More Stories By Robert Diamond

Robert Diamond is the founder and editor-in-chief of BroadwayWorld.com, the premiere theater site on the net now receiving over 100,000 unique visitors a day. He is also the owner of Wisdom Digital Media - a leading designer of entertainment and technology web sites. He is also the lead producer on BroadwayWorld.com's consistently sold-out Joe's Pub concert series, and Standing Ovations benefit concerts. Diamond was also named one of the "Top thirty magazine industry executives under the age of 30" by Folio magazine. Robert holds a BS degree in information management and technology from the School of Information Studies at Syracuse University. Visit his blog at www.robertdiamond.com.

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