Trick or Treo? Handspring Knocks on Carriers Doors

Now that Handspring's product direction is on track, Wireless Supersite Editor Ross Rubin evaluates the company's plan to do back flips to impress its "Tier 1" carrier partners.

When Handspring first came out of stealth mode. I was a bit disappointed that its first product fell so close to the Palm tree. My guess was that the company was going to get involved in the education market. There seemed to me to be a vacuum left by Apple Computers eMate, and the industry was ready for a new kind of portable "education computer."

But, as often happens in the PC industry, the laws of volume took over, and consumer laptops like the Inspiron and iBook have become cheap enough that they have filled that void. (Curiously enough, years after Handsprings move, educational computing company AlphaSmart—makers of the word-processing wonder AlphaSmart 3000—released a Palm OS-based computer called Dana.)

While the Visor was a nice-enough product, it was bound to run out of steam. Coming in an assortment of fruity colors, it looked nice next to an iMac, added USB so it could connect to one and offered a few improvements over Palms built-in applications. Rah. It also included a proprietary slot called Springboard. This "revolution" was a lot like CompactFlash, only bigger and with no industry support.

Springboard modules dribbled into the market. Handspring was criticized for not doing enough to encourage Springboard development, but it wouldnt have mattered. Several of the modules cost more than the Visor itself. Furthermore—from IBMs MCA to Apples ADB to Bes GeekPort—the recent history of computing shows quite clearly that companies that attempt to differentiate on proprietary interfaces generally have a track record thats spottier than 101 Dalmations. Handspring beat Palm to the punch with a color model (the Visor Prism), but lagged on a slim one (the Visor Edge).

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