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Talk to your Handspring with VisorPhone


CHICAGO (IDG) -- Why try to cram a PDA into a mobile phone when you can simply add a phone onto a handheld computer?

That seems to be Handspring's philosophy with its Visor personal digital assistants. Here at the PCIA Global Exchange wireless show, Handspring and its partners are demonstrating new wireless modules that add voice to the Visor--turning it into a phone--as well as modems that offer wireless data access.

Handspring is leading the phone module charge with its VisorPhone. Scheduled for release by year end, the $300 VisorPhone adds a GSM phone and Short Messaging Service capabilities to the PDA and modifies its address book, says Greg Shirai, product line manager at Handspring.

"With the module in place, you can simply tap on a number in the address book to dial," Shirai adds. Also, you can store five pages of single-tap dialing buttons, he says.

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An earpiece on the module lets you hold the Visor to your ear and talk into the PDA's built-in microphone. There's also a jack for a headset, a more practical way to use the VisorPhone because you can access Visor applications while you talk.

International support

Although the VisorPhone should work with all GSM carriers in the U.S., Handspring chose GSM because it is prevalent internationally. To support CDMA, the large network used in the U.S. by Sprint PCS and Verizon, Handspring has licensed its software and plastics to CDMA developer AirPrime.

Also announced at the show was AirPrime's SB1000 Wireless Springboard module, which should ship soon after the VisorPhone, says Cailin Pacurariu, manager of developer relations at Handspring. "By the end of the year, it will go to carriers for CDMA certification. After that it could be available early 2001 or midyear depending on the carrier," Pacurariu says.

Cordless phone meets PDA

Another Handspring developer, Arkon Networks, unveiled the Parafone Cordless Telephone module for Visor. Like the VisorPhone and AirPrime modules, the Parafone adds dialing to the address book. The unit is expected to be available by year end.

"Its base station also services as a HotSync cradle for the Visor and recharger for the phone module," Pacurariu says.

The VisorPhone comes with a similar recharging cradle, so you can recharge the lithium-ion battery in the modules through the Visor when it sits in the cradle.

Looking further, Texas Instruments plans to develop a chip set reference for third-generation wireless phones that includes a chip set for the Springboard module.

"The new boards have at the center a chip set for the Springboard module with phone peripherals added around that," Pacurariu says. That means phone modules could be developed to take advantage of high-speed networks.

Wireless access for Visor

Phone modules aren't the only wireless add-ons on display. Handspring developer Tellus Technology unveiled its WIPClip Cellular Digital Packet Data (CDPD) module for wireless data access.

Although it provides technology similar to the Novatel Minstrel S CDPD module, the WIPClip is optimized for Springboard, Pacurariu says. "It's slimmer, has a larger battery, and uses our charge path to the recharge the module through the Visor," Pacurariu says. Like the Novatel module available through wireless ISPs such as OmniSky, the Tellus module will be priced and sold by wireless service providers.

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Palm Inc.
Tellus Technology Inc.
Arkon Resources, Inc.

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