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Palm and Visor Vie for Macworld Audience

by Derrick Story
01/12/2001

Steve Jobs explained how new Apple applications added value to existing consumer digital devices such as MP3 players, DV camcorders, and PDAs.
Steve Jobs explained how new Apple applications added value to existing consumer digital devices such as MP3 players, DV camcorders, and PDAs.

 

Palm Computing posted some impressive numbers during their presentation including their OS is currently used by 70 percent of the market.
Palm Computing posted some impressive numbers during their presentation including their OS is currently used by 70 percent of the market.

 

Handspring took a very practical approach at Macworld. Show the Visor; sell the Visor. They also gave away a Visor at each and every demo.
Handspring took a very practical approach at Macworld. "Show the Visor; sell the Visor." They also gave away a Visor at each and every demo.

 

There were also spin-off products at Macworld including this Half Keyboard by Matias Corporation.
There were also spin-off products at Macworld including this Half Keyboard by Matias Corporation.

Photos by Derrick Story.

PDA hullabaloo was as conspicuous at Macworld as graffiti on a subway wall.

Steve Jobs etched the first stroke during his keynote address with a vision of Apple technology residing in the center of an electronic device universe. He explained that Macs added value to MP3 players, PDAs, and digital camcorders by serving as cost-effective storage and connectivity conduits for these specialty units.

Jobs' vision was supported on the show floor itself, with the commanding presence of Canon, Handspring, Nomad, and Palm showing how well they all plug in to a Mac. Palm and Handspring, in particular, were enthusiastically courting the Macintosh audience.

Palm has always been popular with Mac users because their devices sync with PowerBooks, iMacs, and G4s. And when Handspring burst onto the scene, its product line had a distinct Mac flavor with multi-colored offerings and USB support. Pocket PCs, on the other hand, are Windows devices that aren't much use to the Mac community.

So, with both Palm and Handspring waving the Mac colors, which one has the most to offer to this community?

I'm going to compare the two competitors in three important areas -- compatibility, expandability, and connectivity -- to see which is the better choice for Mac users.

Compatibility

Because both Visors and Palms use essentially the same OS by Palm, they are equally compatible with Macintosh computers. Anyone who's ever used Claris Organizer will feel right at home with the Palm desktop -- it's a dead ringer for the old Claris favorite.

Synchronizing Palms and Visors is a painless affair on the Mac. And if you have a modern PowerBook, you can even hot-sync wirelessly using the IrDA port.

For all practical purposes, Visors and Palms are equal in this category.

Expandability

Visors and Palms take different approaches to upgrading the Palm OS and adding functionality.

In the system software arena, Palms have a distinct advantage because their devices are Flash upgradable. In other words, if your Palm III has OS 3.1 today, and you want to upgrade to OS 3.5, all you have to do is pony up the $19 to buy the upgrade and install it on your PDA.

Visors, by contrast, don't have this OS upgrade capability. If you have a Visor today with OS 3.1, your only system upgrade options are to add software patches or buy a new unit.

Hardware expansion is another matter, however. Visors have the patented Springboard modules that allow you to convert your device to a cellphone, MP3 player, digital camera, digital voice recorder, GPS unit, and wireless modem, by simply sliding a module in the back slot. Beyond that, you can also add another 8 MBs of memory via the Flash memory expansion card.

Palms do have a number of intriguing add-ons including the excellent Kodak Palm Pix camera and wireless modems, but their hardware accessories are generally more cumbersome and less versatile. As a result, we're seeing Handspring's expandable solution pull ahead of Palm devices in this area.

In the final analysis, it's a split decision for this category. Palms definitely are more upgradeable when it comes to the OS, but Visors get the nod for memory expansion and clever hardware add-ons.

Mac connectivity

At the Palm booth, they explained how users can easily connect their devices to Macs. Fact of the matter is that Palm requires Mac users to buy a separate connectivity kit that runs about $30 to do so.

Handspring is the only PDA company that is Mac-compatible right out of the box. They include both Mac and Windows software on their CD, the USB cradle is faster than Palm's solution, and it's compatible with every Mac sold today.

And the winner is ...

Both Palm and Handspring are shipping excellent devices, but if you're a Mac user, Visor's out-of-the-box connectivity tips the scales in its favor. If you're considering buying a Visor, I recommend the Platinum or the Prism because they are loaded with the most current Palm OS.

If you're on the go and need to travel light, then I would take a look at the svelte Palm VX and consider syncing it wirelessly via IrDA with a PowerBook.

Derrick Story is the author of The Photoshop CS4 Companion for Photographers, The Digital Photography Companion, and Digital Photography Hacks, and coauthor of iPhoto: The Missing Manual, with David Pogue. You can follow him on Twitter or visit www.thedigitalstory.com.


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