Wireless Palm VII ~ Look Ma No Hands!

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Wireless Palm VII ~ Look Ma No Hands!
P. Hayes - June 26, 2000

Product Background

3Com introduced the Palm VII Wireless PDA in early 1999. The device initially retailed for $599 (MSRP) USD with an expensive wireless monthly service fee. In October of 1999 prior to the Palm spin-off, 3Com cut not only the cost of the device from $599 to $499, but also lowered the cost of service due to complaints from the end user population of exorbitant access fees. The Palm VII is a logical wireless extension of the Palm Pilot platform.

The Palm VII is a data-driven device allowing access to such information as news, sports, weather, e-mail, driving directions, yellow pages, and various other items. Palm does not offer users access to the world wide web (WWW) via a browser, partly due to speed and bandwidth considerations and also because data-driven devices appear to be the future of wireless appliances. Users of the Palm VII can utilize 3rd party software to synchronize web pages to their device.

Product Strategy and Trajectory

The Palm VII occupies the form factor of a Palm III with the only differences being a slightly elongated body, coupled with a 'flip-up' antenna. The Palm VII comes with 2MB RAM and access to 20 web clipping enabled sites which allows a user to get up to the minute news, stock quotes, sporting news, instant messaging, yellow pages, people search and directions, among others. When combined with 3rd party management and synchronization software such as Puma Technologies Intellisync offering, the Palm VII can access designated data on an organization's network.

While the Palm VII is a 'cool gadget', it is not without shortcomings. The proliferation of Wireless Access Phones and the introduction of the new PocketPC devices make the Palm VII's days numbered. The resolution of the Palm VII's screen leaves much to be desired; viewing even basic graphics is difficult. The lack of memory expansion is a serious shortcoming when compared to Palm's immediate competition, the Visor from Handspring, which is more flexible and more cost effective in add-ons from memory to modems. Palm.net is the service provider for the Palm VII allowing US Nationwide coverage as shown in diagram 1. (Source: Palm, Inc.) Service in major metropolitan areas is good, however in more rural areas the service is non-existent, which is par for the wireless industry as a whole.


Palm.net has also improved its pricing plans for varying levels of service for the Palm VII. There are four different plans available. A Basic Plan for 9.99 (USD) per month includes 50K of data access monthly, with each 1K above the 50K an extra .20 cents. An Expanded Plan is 24.99 and includes 150K of data access monthly, while the Volume Plan is 39.99 monthly and includes 300K of monthly data access. However, for an extra $5 a month on top of the Volume Plan, a user can step up to unlimited data access.

Given that both Wireless Access Phones and the Pocket PC will very shortly be able to surpass the functionality that Palm VII has to offer for a far lower total cost of ownership and service plan charge, we believe that the Palm VII has become a dinosaur in the infancy of wireless device access. Recent polls taken on the Internet have indicated tremendous interest and momentum for the Pocket PC and a reduced interest in the Palm platform. To add to the fiercely competitive PDA market, Research in Motion (RIM) has just released the RIM 957 Wireless Handheld, a constantly connected device with strong collaborative e-mail functionality. However, the global proliferation of the Palm computing device will make a formidable adversary for even the brightest new technologies.

Palm is aggressively marketing the device as a utilitarian field tool. The target markets are: financial - to provide up to the minute information; military bases usage - to increase efficiency; fuel distribution - for tracking and increased sales; and also the wide consumer market. With the emergence of Bluetooth technology coupled with Palm's embracing of the Wireless Access Protocol (WAP), we expect Palm to maintain, if not extend its lead in the wireless PDA market with more advanced wireless offerings.

During Palm's initial public offering in early March. Palm shares tripled in value the first day, briefly lending Palm a value in excess of 3Com, not withstanding 3Com's ownership of 9.5 percent of Palm shares. Palm shares have since subsided to $26 5/16, down from a high of $165.

Product Strengths

Let's face it, the Palm VII is very cool. Having carried a test unit with me everywhere, I found the device extremely useful. Not only does it perform all the standard tasks of a Palm III or Palm V vis--vis e-mail, calendar, address books and notes synchronization; but it also allowed flight booking, information look ups such as directions, telephone numbers, and access to company databases, at anytime from anywhere.

The device is particularly strong in wireless sales force automation, allowing constant access to the office, sales contact lists, calendaring, meeting scheduling and data sharing, in addition to instant messaging to either clients or colleagues.

Product Challenges

Lifespan. What is the lifespan for a new product in today's rapidly changing technologically driven market? For wireless devices it can be anywhere from a matter of months to two years. We believe the Palm VII will outlast the 24-month timeframe due to the immaturity of the Wireless Access Market in the United States. Simply stated, U.S. users are 16 - 24 months behind Europe and Asia in terms of wireless development, giving the Palm VII an extended lifecycle within the U.S. One of the major shortcomings of the Palm VII is that a manual connect is required, there is never a constant connection to palm.net with the device.

Palm will (and already has begun to) enable enhanced wireless in devices such as the Qualcomm PDQ-1900, a wireless access phone combined with a Palm OS. Once again, because the WAP device still does not maintain a constant connection, the user must take some action to initiate data flow. The integration of Bluetooth wireless technology, will most certainly change the face of Palm wireless computing, as we know it today.


Vendor Recommendations

Palm should slowly remove this device from the market and introduce an enhanced version of the unit, with a sleeker form factor, memory expansion capabilities, and an active LCD screen for enhanced viewing quality. The device must also come pre-configured to access an Internet or Corporate mailbox via POP3, HTTP or IMAP. Synchronization with one's mail is nice, but to place a fully functional inbox in your hand is absolutely necessary for the successful evolution of Palm's handheld devices. We would further recommend, given the proliferation of Palm devices, that Palm developers create management software for IT administrators and support personnel to not only track inventory, but also to access and track usage billing.

User Recommendations

The Palm VII has never made a solid pitch for corporate usability and viability and has therefore never received the success associated with the Palm III and Palm V platforms. If you have either of these devices and are looking for wireless access, you do not need to go to the Palm VII platform, you can add a wireless modem, which will provide twice the data speed of the Palm VII coupled with lower monthly access fees and a larger supported coverage area for roaming users.

If you have four or five hundred (USD) on hand and find the need to be on the 'cutting edge' of technology, the Palm VII may be a perfect match for you. However, we would recommend users wait 180 days for the advent of the next phase of wireless offerings, which we believe will have significant improvements over current wireless PDA technology.

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