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Older Palms Won’t Get Wi-Fi

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SanDisk started selling a Secure Digital (SD) card that would support 802.11b in PDAs in late summer. The $129 product ships only with drivers for select Pocket PCs with an SDIO slot. The company said it would deliver drivers for Palm-based units with the same slot before 2003 was up (at one time SanDisk expected as many as 30 products to use this SD Connect Wi-Fi Card), but now says that that will not be the case.

According to an e-mail from a company spokesman, it will provide Palm drivers in the first quarter of 2004, but only for Palm OS 5.X. SanDisk will not offer Wi-Fi support to makers of units running Palm OS 4.1 or earlier at all.

Standard SD Cards measure about the size of a postage stamp and usually sit flush in a PDA, but the Wi-Fi capable cards will extend past the slot opening as an antenna. Palm started to introduce the SDIO slots in PDAs several years ago, with SD-based memory cards as the only expansion option. Few Palm devices support Compact Flash, which is found on older, Windows CE-based Pocket PCs.

Estimates say five million Palm devices with SDIO slots are available that run Palm OS 4.1. That operating system can not be upgraded to Palm OS 5.x due to special hardware requirements of 5.x.

The SanDisk SD Connect Wi-Fi Card is based on silicon from SyChip, namely its WLAN 6060. While SyChip’s Web site still says it will support Palm OS 4 and higher, SanDisk says SyChip’s Palm OS 5.x drivers are still in the very early alpha testing stage. With the recent split by Palm into two companies (palmOne for hardware and PalmSource for software), SyChip has to enter a new legal agreement with PalmSource before it can go forward with future driver development.

SanDisk goes on to say it and SyChip have “invested considerable time and resources into developing Palm OS 4.1 drivers” but that in the long run providing the drivers will not be worthwhile. The older hardware, they say, isn’t fast enough to take advantage of the higher bandwidth speed of 802.11b, and models that lack networking software (like the Palm m500) would need upgrades that would require too much technical expertise by the end user.

The company blamed delays in the Palm 5.x drivers for the SD Wi-Fi card on proprietary changes to the OS that product makers can introduce (SanDisk will have to make device specific changes); electrical issues on some devices that couldn’t handle the SD Wi-Fi card (the Treo 600 is mentioned specifically); and the legal issues with developing for Palm OS mentioned above.

Socket Communications makes a $129 Low Power SDIO Wireless LAN Card that is also based on SyChip’s 6060 chip. Socket’s product is likewise limited to Pocket PCs at this time according to the company Web site.

Not all hardware running Palm OS comes from palmOne, nor do they all have SD slots. Sony’s Clié line, for example, has slots for Sony’s proprietary Memory Stick. Currently, the only known Memory Stick with Wi-Fi built in is coming out of Japan from Hagiwara Sys-Com; this unit also will only support Palm OS 5.x. The company also plans to make their own SD Wi-Fi products.

Some of the current line of palmOne and Sony Clié products come with 802.11b embedded, including the Palm Tungsten C and the Sony Clié PEG-UX50. Both run Palm OS 5.2.

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