The trend to build more communication power, and specifically smart-phone functionality, into handhelds is picking up steam with new operating system advances and server management software on tap from a variety of developers.
PalmSource Inc., Research In Motion Ltd. and Vodafone Group Plc. are each readying or launching new and upgraded wares to push telephony features into new handheld devices, while Symbian Ltd. is working on several fronts to offer customers greater telephony management features.
PalmSource at the end of the month will announce software upgrades that include new telephony features for Palm OS, company officials in Sunnyvale, Calif., said.
"The handheld business isnt going away, but its not growing rapidly," said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer at PalmSource, which makes the Palm operating system. "A lot of attention is turning toward the smart-phone space. ... Its fair to say thats our top priority."
The company also has "imminent" plans to release client software that lets Palm OS-based devices connect to RIMs BlackBerry Enterprise Server, or BES, through its BlackBerry Connect licensing program, Mace said.
Several BlackBerry Connect licensees plan to add BES support to their devices by years end, said Mike Lazaridis, president and co-CEO of RIM, in Waterloo, Ontario. RIM will also continue to develop carrier-specific smart phones.
Last week, RIM and Vodafone announced the 7100v, a Vodafone-exclusive model that measures 4.7 by 2.3 by 0.7 inches; it has a 20-key QWERTY keyboard. The unit follows the 7100t, a model exclusive to T-Mobile USA Inc. RIM officials said they expect other carriers to follow suit but declined to offer more details.
"Were trying to address a different audience," said Lazaridis. "These are the people who want a phone. This is a BlackBerry disguised as a phone."
RIM will extend increased phone capabilities to its traditional, full-keyboard devices as well. Within the next month, the company will launch the BlackBerry 7290, an upgrade to the popular 7230, Lazaridis said. The new model will support four GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) bands instead of three and will support Bluetooth, a feature that will be part of all new BlackBerrys going forward, he said.
RIM also is set to release a BlackBerry that supports 802.11 Wi-Fi networks. Due in January or February, it will look like the 7290, he said.
On the server side, the long-awaited BES 4.0 is in wide beta testing and due out soon. It will include support for AES (Advanced Encryption Standard) security, Lazaridis said, in addition to the ability to provision devices wirelessly.
"This is huge from a deployment standpoint," said Jeff Fantin, a computer analyst at Salt River Project, a Phoenix utility company that has been beta testing BES 4.0. "Its literally going to cut our configuration down from 40 minutes to 5 to 10 per install."
Smart-phone software veteran Symbian is pursuing over-the-air provisioning as well, partnering with companies such as Bitfone Corp., which shipped new products last week that let customers fix mobile device software problems without physically bringing the device to the carrier or an IT manager. So far, only Asian carriers have announced support for Bitfones software, but a major U.S. carrier will be on board by years end, according to Gene Wang, CEO of Bitfone, in Laguna Niguel, Calif.
Officials at Symbian said that eventually phone customers should be able to upgrade their phones to future versions of the Symbian operating system over the air, a boon to customers who want to keep up with Symbians four-month upgrade cycle.
"The capability to upgrade your OS is there," said Jerry Panagrossi, vice president of U.S. operations for the London company. "The majority of the carriers, based on my conversations with many of them, have either made a decision or are in the process of making a decision about over-the-air provisioning."
At Symbians annual symposium next month, IBMs Pervasive Computing Group will announce services for Symbian that tie into IBMs Web device management and speech recognition technology, Panagrossi said. Furthermore, future versions of Symbian OS will be more secure, he said. The company is looking to improve application certification to prevent malware installation on phones.
"Were moving toward a day that all applications will have to be signed in order to be installed on phones," Panagrossi said.