Wi-Fi Accessories Slow to Come for Palm

By James Alan Miller

August 09, 2004

Enfora's release of a new Wi-Fi binder for palmOne's Tungsten E highlights the dearth of options for adding 802.11b wireless networking to Palm-based handhelds.

Wi-Fi is a drag...on handheld power.

While 802.11b wireless networking has freed many mobile device users from wires and expensive cellular data plans, many PDAs still don't offer the technology.

That's where Wi-Fi peripherals, such as CompactFlash and Secure Digital cards, come in. Purchase one of these nifty accessories, and you can surf the Web and download e-mail from your local cafe... but not if you're a Palm handheld user.

You see, unlike Pocket PCs, nearly all Palm-based handhelds that don't integrate Wi-Fi currently can't support card-based Wi-Fi peripherals, as these accessories drain too much power. Some of Sony's now defunct (at least in America and Europe) Clie PDAs with CompactFlash slots could add Wi-Fi capability, but only via the electronic giant's own proprietary cards.

A company called Enfora offers a solution, a leather-bound binder measuring about 3.8 x 6.2 x 1.4 inches with its own power supply that hooks up to a palmOne handheld's Universal Connector. The binder's wireless range is 500 feet outdoors and 100 feet inside.

Unfortunately, Palm's Universal Connector, which was thoughtfully designed to allow palmOne device users to take their often expensive accessories, such as keyboards, with them from device to device isn't so universal anymore.

In fact, palmOne's connectors have become downright particular. As a result, Enfora has released versions of its $170 Wi-Fi binder for Palm's now defunct mSeries and now the mid-range Tungsten E. Unfortunately, palmOne's higher-end Tungsten T series as well as Zire 71 and Zire 72 still aren't supported.

Rumors about Wi-Fi-enabled Secure Digital cards coming out for Palm handhelds have been circulating for a long time now. The most recent has SandDisk releasing one soon for the Zire 71. This would be a lower-power card than the version for Pocket PCs. It should sell for $99.

Most other palmOne handhelds won't be able to use this card because of its power draw. Also, the more powerful Tungsten T3 and Zire 72 handhelds require a software patch to make them compatible. SanDisk, however, can't deliver this patch by itself. PalmOne must create the patch, but doesn't appear to be in a hurry to do so.

There has been speculation that palmOne plans to offer its own Secure Digital Wi-Fi card. That could be why.

Reprinted from Palm Boulevard.

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