The past week has seen a veritable blizzard of Palm press releases, and I'm still trying to sort out what they all mean. First, Palm announced that it earned just $172.3 million in revenue for the first quarter of fiscal year 2002—a 20 percent drop from the same period in 2001—resulting in a net loss in the range of 6 to 45 cents per share. Palm said that it shipped more than 800,000 devices during this period, representing 59 percent of the US retail market share as of August 2002.

Palm also announced the introduction of new brand names—Tungsten for enterprise products and Zire for consumer products. The first product to use the new brand name is the Tungsten Mobile Information Management (MIM) Solution (formerly known as Palm Wireless Messaging), which delivers email, calendar, contacts, notes, and tasks to Palm i705 users from Microsoft Exchange Server and Lotus Domino servers.

Palm expects the first Tungsten and Zire devices to ship this fall. Palm also expects consumer sales of Palm OS devices to exceed 5 million units this year, and "sales of handheld computers to enterprises are expected to account for the biggest growth segment in the market," according to International Data Corporation (IDC), June 2002.

What do all these announcements mean? On the one hand, a company losing money isn't good news, and the new brand names will be only as good as the products that carry them. On the other hand, I'm glad to see Palm acknowledge that corporate users and consumers have different needs (although when a corporate user goes home from work, he or she becomes a consumer). Also on a positive note, the installed base and product ship numbers look good, particularly considering the poor state of today's economy.

In the next couple of quarters, we'll see Palm spin out its PalmSource software subsidiary and deliver the first Palm OS 5 devices (presumably under the new brand names). I hope both go well! For more information, go to the following URL.
http://www.palm.com

SIMPUTER: PDAs FOR THE THIRD WORLD?
The fascinating "Scientific American" article "Computers for the Third World" (October 2002) describes an effort to create a handheld computer with a UI that's simple enough for otherwise illiterate people to operate. The device is called the Simputer. What first caught my eye, however, was what appeared to be photographs of Pocket PC devices—and the specifications sounded familiar. The processor is an Intel StrongARM CPU, with 64MB of RAM and 32MB of flash-ROM.

Pocket PCs for the illiterate? Sounds like a joke, doesn't it? But I can't help but think that the concept might actually make sense in the long run. Moore's Law (formulated years ago by Intel's Gordon Moore) teaches that the number of transistors that can be economically fabricated on a given area of silicon will double every 18 months. In practical terms, Moore's Law says that every couple of years, silicon-based devices (including conventional PDAs and conventional PCs) get faster and more powerful at a given price. Those devices can also get cheaper, if you're willing to live with a given set of capabilities. So the Simputer that costs more than $200 today ought to cost $100 in less than 2 years and as little as $50 a couple of years after that.

This story is worth watching. You can read the "Scientific American" article at the first URL below, and you can find details about the Simputer at the second URL.

http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?articleID=000454AE-7675-1D7E-90FB809EC5880000
http://www.simputer.org