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Handspring slashes price of combo PDA/phone

PC World

By Frank Thorsberg

(IDG) -- Talking on a PDA just got a lot cheaper, but it may take more than a big price cut to woo buyers.

Handspring is lowering the price of its $249 VisorPhone Springboard module to just $49, but there's a catch. To qualify for the deal, you must buy a one-year service contract from wireless providers Cingular Wireless, Powertel, or Voicestream. A broad range of calling plans are available, starting at about $30 monthly.

"We think this new pricing will enable many more people to realize the amazing benefits of a combined phone and organizer," says Joe Sipher, Handspring's vice president of product marketing. "With our Blazer Web browser and applications for wireless e-mail and messaging, VisorPhone at this price is one of the greatest values in the market."

This is the Visorphone's second price cut in two months. In May, Handspring dropped the VisorPhone's price $50 from the $299 introductory price the device carried late last year. Handspring announced the VisorPhone last September.

Both Handspring and rival Palm, whose operating system Handspring licenses for its PDAs, have trimmed prices this spring.

High prices, many choices

The idea of combining a PDA and a phone has not taken the consumer world by storm, however, according to Allen Nogee, senior analyst at Cahners In-Stat, a digital-communications research firm. INFOCENTER
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"In general, people haven't really taken strongly to these combination products, including phone in a PDA and PDA in a phone," Nogee says.

Kevin Burden, an analyst who follows handhelds for technology researcher IDC, points to the general economic climate as a key factor impeding sales of combination devices.

"It's really indicative of the economy and the slowing down of sales of devices and technology that's not deemed to be as critical to daily life as a PC," Burden says.

One trouble is price. The combination devices generally cost more than buying a PDA and a wireless phone separately. Another sticking point is the daunting number of available choices.

"When people are looking for a phone or PDA, generally they think of one product at a time," Nogee says. "It's hard enough to wade through all the selections of one device. When you combine the two together, it can be almost overwhelming."

With the Visorphone, there's an added complication. It uses the GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) technology, which is popular overseas but is not as widely used in the United States as the more popular CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology.

"I do think we are going to see more combinations as time goes by," Nogee says. "What we are seeing now are the first attempts, and customers haven't taken to those combination products as much as the carriers would hope."

More combos due

Visor competitor Palm doesn't offer an add-on phone for its PDA. However, clip-on phones are available from vendors such as OhFish Communications, according to a company spokesperson.

Samsung expects to ship in August the SPH-I300 digital assistant, which combines a wireless phone with a Palm OS-based personal digital assistant. Sprint PCS and Verizon Wireless expect to sell this unit for about $500.

The Samsung phone isn't the first Palm OS smart phone. Kyocera announced its QCP 6035 smart phone in November. Spring PCS also markets the Kyocera device, priced at about $500.

Nokia is selling its Nokia 9210 Communicator mobile phone -- a Java-enabled device that includes PDA functions. It's only available in Europe, Asia, and Africa now, but is expected to be available in North America next year.

The 9210 handset combines phone and personal digital assistant functions in a clamshell format that runs Symbian's EPOC operating system and Personal Java software. The phone also includes a version of Real Networks RealPlayer, so it can play video and audio files.

• Handspring

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