ISSUE 572: New Economy- Oct 10 2000
The high-tech office
prove useful for handheld
Last week, we saw that by adding a modem and
some free software, it was possible to use a Palm (or in my
case, a Palm-clone Handspring Visor) handheld for e-mail and
But we also saw that viewing pages on the little
computer's small screen was less than ideal. Enter Web clipping.
Web-clipping services offer Internet information reformatted to be more
easily readable on a tiny screen. The trade-off is access to only a
limited subset of the Web's vast storehouse of information.
U.S. Palm users have been able to purchase the Palm
VII, with a built-in antenna, wireless Internet access and a
subscription to a Palm-controlled Web-clipping service. Owners of
standard Palm III and Palm V models can now purchase a US$369 Novatel
Minstrel III wireless modem and subscribe to a similar service from OmniSky.
Like the Palm VII, however, only in the U.S.
Glenayre Electronics has teamed up with WorldCom
division SkyTel to offer Visor users wireless capabilities.
Unlike Palm or OmniSky, they're promising "continent-wide roaming."
Like other Visor add-ons, it makes use of that product's Springboard
expansion modules. Unlike others, you can't buy the module on its own.
The US$428 module includes a C$375 Visor Deluxe handheld in the
package. Currently, they're only selling it to U.S. customers.
Despite this, I was sent an evaluation unit, which
worked in Vancouver some of the time. Like other Springboard modules,
it worked as soon as it was plugged in, automatically in-
stalling its software onto the Visor.
To get any use out of it, however, it's necessary to
activate an account with SkyTel.
SkyTel's SkyWriter service plans range from US$25 to
US$60 per month, offering a dedicated e-mail address and wireless Web
clipping. Using the Web clipping is not like browsing the Web. You're
never entering www addresses, for instance. Instead, the InfoBeam
program offers icons for phone directories, 15-minute delayed stock
quotations, news and sports headlines, weather, flight information,
courier package tracking and more. Surprise! The weather and
directories are only for U.S. locations.
Choose a category, send a request and, quickly,
information is returned to your handheld, neatly formatted for the
small screen. The range of information is generic but pretty good,
allowing for its U.S. focus. And being able to actually read it without
a problem is worth the limitations.
But it's relatively expensive and, despite the
"continent-wide" claims, not really an option here.
Perhaps the best way currently for owners of Palm and
other small devices to access the Internet doesn't require going online
at all, at least not directly.
AvantGo (www.avantgo.com) promises "the
Internet on your handheld" for Palm OS (including Visor), Windows CE
and Web-enabled cell phones. It offers free content from a wide range
of sources (about 1,000 "channels"). These can be viewed directly with
a small device sporting a wireless or wired modem. Alternatively, you
can skip the service entirely: the AvantGo software is a nice Web
browser. But more useful for many is the ability to get the same
information onto a handheld device that lacks the ability to go online
When you sign up on AvantGo, you download software for
a Windows PC or Mac. It hooks into your handheld's synchronization
program. Afterwards, whenever you sync your handheld and desktop
computer, you are automatically logged onto AvantGo, downloading the
Web content already formatted to be readable on your device.
Whenever you want, it's sitting on your handheld,
ready to read. Just as if you were online, but with no delays because
the pages are already there.
However, there are a few things to watch out for:
n It's easy to sign up for a lot of channels,
downloading more than your space-limited handheld can store.
n Logging online and downloading all those Web pages
adds a lot of time to the synchronization and can be a real battery