PalmSource to Unveil Cobalt OS for Smart Phones

The latest version of the Palm OS, Cobalt 6.1, features built-in phone capabilities.

PalmSource Inc. this week will introduce a new version of Palm OS that is designed from the ground up for smart phones, a move meant to expedite the release of new devices that will compete with the popular but pricey Treo 600, according to officials.

But with PalmSources biggest licensee, PalmOne Inc., apparently rejecting Cobalt for its eagerly awaited Treo 650, insiders question the need for the operating systems advances as well as the strength of PalmSources relationships in general.

According to PalmSource officials, about a dozen Palm OS-based smart phones will ship between now and the first half of next year. While declining to name the manufacturers, the officials said some of the forthcoming models will be based on Cobalt 6.0, which shipped to licensees at the end of last year.

Version 6.1 devices may take longer, but officials said that the majority of their licensees, as well as several Asian ODMs (original design manufacturers), plan to support Cobalt within two years.

"Its not always instant, but weve got most of our licensees focused on Cobalt-based products at some point in the future," said David Nagel, president and CEO of PalmSource, in Sunnyvale, Calif.

"Everyone I know who has the Treo 600 loves it, but its expensive," said John Greinier, chief technical officer at Legal Services for New York City, in New York, which is evaluating wireless devices for its case managers. "If other devices follow along, thats great, especially if they fall into our budget."

/zimages/3/28571.gifClick here to read eWEEK Labs review of the Treo 600.

Dave Printz, CIO of Central DuPage Hosptial, in Windfield, Ill., agreed. "The cheaper the better and the more functions the better—thats whats going to drive more adoption. Its just like with PCs—look at what happened when Dell entered the market and drove down costs on PCs."

The hosptial starting moving its staff to smart phones last year, and now 15 percent of the medical staff—from physicians to nurses to pharmacists—uses either a Pocket PC-based or Palm OS-based smart phone.

"This is the first year, in my multiple decades of being in health care technology that I no longer carry my laptop. I carry my Treo 600, and it has everything I need—e-mail, voice, contacts," said Printz.

Cobalt 6.1 includes such features as interruptible hot sync and automatic backup. The operating system also includes support for Bluetooth, GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications)/GPRS (General Packet Radio Service) and SIM (Subscriber Identity Model) card management. It also integrates directly with the software of the GSM radio. Cobalt includes an integrated phone pad.

Lack of Bluetooth support is one reason some of DuPages physicians havent switched over to smart phones provided by the hosptial yet, said Printz.

"They dont want to lose the Bluetooth functionality they have in their cars now; theyre used to it. Plus, we get a great signal in our operating rooms now, and they want to use it for hands-free communication," he said.

In addition to Cobalt 6.1, PalmSource is introducing this week a Web browser, an operating system installer, a developer suite and a mail client for Research In Motion Ltd.s BlackBerry Enterprise Server.

Analysts say PalmSource is moving in the right direction but that it must get over its legacy. Palm Inc. split into PalmSource and PalmOne last year, with the latter dedicated to hardware.

"PalmOne wants to control too much of the platform," said Ken Dulaney, a Gartner Inc. analyst in San Jose, Calif., noting that the Treo has its own e-mail platform and supports several others. "One of the key problems is that the Treo 650 is still not on Version 6 and that the devices running this platform are still only in the future."

Due next month, the highly anticipated Treo 650 will be based on a point release of Palm OS Version 5.2, said sources familiar with the new device.

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