Palm to offer wireless Net access

Palm computers will offer its European customers ‘mobile’ Internet access within the next 18 months.

World leading hand-held computers company Palm is planning to offer Internet access to all its European customers by the end of the year.

The decision, announced last week as part of a European roadshow by senior management, follows much speculation about Palm’s Internet strategy.

Palm recently separated from parent 3Com and now faces competition from newcomers Handspring and Intel, as well as from established rivals such as the Psion Organiser and Microsoft Pocket PC. Palm has so far restricted its one wireless model to the US market.

But it now says that getting Europe wired up is a “major priority” and expects to be working with the new European Bluetooth technology, as well as looking at other methods of accessing the Net.

European customers will be offered free software later this year that will allow them to connect to the Net through their mobile phones. But Palm expects this initiative to be swiftly followed by “phase two”, which will enable Palms to become wireless devices by means of a special Palm attachment instead of a mobile phone.

Phase three will see the launch of an all-in-one wireless unit that requires no extra attachments or phones. Palm believes there will be some overlap between the phases but hopes to see the whole project completed within 18 months.

Palm executives sounded extremely upbeat ahead of their second-quarter results this week, lightly dismissing the much-publicised supply problems. “Everybody should have these problems”, said chief executive officer Carl Yankowski.

“Sales have exceeded our wildest estimates and we’re now pulling out all the stops to meet demand.”

With over 7 million Palm units sold worldwide and more than 50,000 non-Palm developers writing software for its operating system, the company believes it can challenge the might of the mobile phone giants in creating a standard for mobile Internet connectivity. It hopes the much larger screen size on a Palm compared with the average mobile phone, as well as the Palm’s much faster log-on speed, will work in its favour.

The company has been running a brand-building global TV and press campaign.

Lastminute.com began a “viral marketing” campaign last week that used a specially developed football game for the Palm. It can be beamed from one Palm to another, using the infrared facility.

Safeway has been experimenting with an order-from-home service that uses the Palm. Customers are required to come into the store to collect the goods. Palm says the trials have gone well but Safeway was unavailable for comment as Marketing Week went to press.

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