Friday, January 11, 2002

Handspring Treo out next week

Handspring Treo out next week ::: Last summer, Handspring announced the Treo, a communicator that would combine a Palm Pilot, a GSM cell phone, and a wireless Internet device for e-mail and web browsing. I wasn’t really overwhelmed by the idea – I’d seen the Kyocera Smart Phone and found it bulky, had friends who said the battery life was bad, and Handspring’s explanation of the wireless e-mail capabilities sounded a lot like OmniSky’s wireless POP3 e-mail access (where you were lucky to get an hour of battery life).

Then the reviews started pouring in. I was especially persuaded by Walt Mossberg’s glowing review (say what you will about the guy, he rarely glows about anything; did you see last week when he carved 10% out of XM Radio’s market cap with a lukewarm review?) in The Wall Street Journal back in November. Others have been equally effusive: this could be the device.

But RIM still owns the corporate wireless e-mail game, right? Not necessarily. Yesterday, wireless network provider Motient filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Motient is one of two major network providers for Blackberry access. Handspring will be releasing their “always on” wireless e-mail option shortly after the Treo ships, and the Treo runs on an OS that is actually intuitive and is supported by thousands of third-party developers. (If you’ve ever used a BlackBerry, you have to admit: other than wireless e-mail, there isn’t much it does well.)

Ramifications of this little gadget coming out on Monday? Motient will take longer to emerge from bankruptcy, RIM’s sales will stall (I had the CIO of a major RIM customer tell me the other day that after seeing the Treo, he’d probably phase out more than 2000 BlackBerry devices in favor of the Treo), and Handspring will emerge from an uncertain economic picture into profitability. Just when it looked like the iPaq had won, the Treo may actually save Palm from itself, providing a shot in the arm to licensing revenues and giving the platform a new lease on life.

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