Handspring Takes on the Net Phone

Back to Contents of Issue: August 2000

by Gail Nakada

"HANDHELD COMPUTING IS THE future of Internet access," said Handspring cofounder Ed Colligan at the company's Japan launch for the Visor PDA. But with 10.5 million people already accessing the wireless Web here, the question is, "Why would anyone trade in their Net-enabled phones for the Visor, or for any of the other PDAs hitting the market?"

Launched in mid-June at a packed press conference and reception in Tokyo's New Otani Hotel, the Visor has a lot going for it. The company's patented Springboard external expansion slot lets users snap in software and hardware modules. Add the right module and the Visor can become a camera, MP3 player, pager, modem, GPS receiver, videogame, even a manga. And a mobile-phone module will soon be available. No software drivers or special adapters are needed, and the Visor is Japanese OS compatible with either Windows or Mac. The eye-candy colors and relatively low price -- ¥29,800, compared to ¥41,800 for Palm Vx and ¥69,800 for the PowerZaurus M1-C1 -- should also give it an edge with younger consumers.

But why would anyone put up with pesky module juggling when Net phones are capable of many of the same features, all packed into a neat little 100-gram handset?

"We realize the wireless market is quite a bit different here," says Colligan. "But in the long run this is not going to be a 'winner take all game' between the cell phones and PDAs or something in-between."

Instead, the company sees the market polarizing into two popular "centers of gravity. One will be phone-centric devices and one will be more data-centric devices. Each will try to grow into other areas, but it will grow into a wide range of products."

DoCoMo, meanwhile, is reportedly developing superlight handsets with bigger screens that further blur the distinction between PDA and Net phone.

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