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2nd Palm Conference

Volume Number: 15 (1999)
Issue Number: 2
Column Tag: Conference Report

Second Annual Palm Developer's Conference

by Marshall Clow

Welcome

On December 1st through 4th, the Palm division of 3Com corporation held the second annual Palm Developer's conference at that Santa Clara convention center. Over 1200 Palm developers attended the conference, which contained technical sessions for writing software for the Palm, as well as business sessions to help developers build a business selling software.

The conference was well-coordinated, with lots of little touches to aid the attendees. The conference schedule was downloadable into your Palm, and the name badges were large enough to hold a Palm device.

The Palm VII

The big news at the conference was the announcement of the Palm VII computer, which is a Palm III with an integrated wireless connection that can connect to the internet. Palm spokespeople were quick to explain that the device was not a general-purpose machine for connecting to the internet, citing the low bandwidth of the wireless connection and the small screen of the device. Palm also introduced what they called "Web Clipping" as a different way to access information on the internet. They described it as a focused query to find exactly the information that you want, rather than browsing for information that you might be interested in.

As an example, they used Yahoo's "People Search" to find the name and address of one of the speakers. This kind of "surgical browsing" is encouraged on the Palm VII by the introduction of a new kind of application, called a 'Palm Query Application. It is basically an HTML form that you fill in and send off to a remote web server, and the HTML response is displayed on your screen by a built-in HTML parser/display engine. This eliminates the first few steps of using common web sites i.e, connecting to the site and downloading the form. It also minimizes the amount of traffic sent over the wireless link. The speakers claimed that a typical transaction should require the transfer of only 200-300 bytes.

How does it work? Palm has partnered with BellSouth for wireless connectivity. BellSouth claims that their wireless network covers 90% of all the people in the country. They have base stations in more than 100 cities nationwide. When you send a query to look up someone's address on Yahoo, the HTML form is compressed and then sent over air to the local wireless base station. From there BellSouth sends it to Palm's network site, "Palm.net", where it is sent to Yahoo as an HTML POST command. Yahoo's server sends the data back to Palm.net, which compresses it and sends the data to BellSouth, who then transmits it back to you. In demonstrations at the show, this took between 3 and 15 seconds for the round trip.

Palm had many content providers at the Palm VII introduction announcing support for the Palm VII. A few of the companies were Yahoo, MapQuest, ESPN, E*Trade, Fodors, Bank of America, ABC News, Visa and MasterCard.

Developer Opportunities

The developer opportunities that I saw for the Palm VII fell into two widely divergent categories (of course, there may be others):

  1. If you have some real-time content that you want to serve to Palm owners, and it is accessible via HTML, you are almost home free. Creating a query application is a matter of taking your existing HTML form, making some minor changes to the HTML, and then running the HTML form through a tool that Palm provides. No coding required!
  2. The other big opportunity is in enterprise and vertical markets. There are lots of companies out there who need customized solutions for their business, and who have people who need to know the status of orders, inventories, and manufacturing on an up-to-the-minute basis. I spent a couple of hours talking to Thomas D'Alleva, who is in charge of BellSouth's developer programs, and he said that there are lots of opportunities in vertical markets, such as warehouse and inventory management.

Other Hardware

Symbol Technologies was at the conference, showing people the SPT 1500, which is essentially a Palm III with an integrated bar-code scanner. They also sponsored a programming contest, and the best programs written at the conference won a SPT 1500, as well as other prizes.

Qualcomm showed its upcoming PDQ, a cell phone with an integrated Palm III. I didn't get a chance to play with one, but I am very intrigued by this product. Since I carry both a Palm and a cell phone, I would love to be able to ditch one of the pieces of hardware.

The Palm Computing Platform

The Palm Computing speakers also talked a lot about the "Palm Computing Platform", which encompasses all Palm-compatible devices. This includes the Palm 1000, Palm 5000, the PalmPilot personal (these are no longer being made, as far as I know), the PalmPilot Professional, the Palm III, the IBM Workpad, the Symbol SPT 1500, and the (not yet shipping) Palm VII and Qualcomm PDQ. They made it clear that there would be additional products in the platform, from Palm as well as other hardware manufacturers.

There were lots of sessions on how to develop for the Palm, including a technical overview of the entire platform, sessions on UI design and how to write a basic application. Since one of the big attractions of the Palm machines is easy synchronization of the data on the hand held and the desktop computer, there were several sessions on how to write a "conduit", which is what Palm calls the software that performs the synchronization. A conduit is much more than just a file copying routine. As an example, the data in your address book, could have been changed on both the desktop and the hand held between HodSyncs, and the conduit has to determine, on a record by record basis, which of the records is the most recent.

The business track had sessions on how to attract venture capital, how to market your products overseas, and "Understanding the Palm Computing® Hand held Retail Customer", which presented a demographic appraisal of the people who buy hardware and software for the Palm platform.

Janice Roberts, acting president of Palm, gave a keynote that was entirely about the business case for developing for the Palm platform. She noted that Palm-compatible devices were 63% of the hand held market this year, and that Palm shipped their 2 millionth machine this last September. Less encouraging for other hardware vendors was a note that all the non-Palm devices together had sold about 10,000 units.

Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky, gave keynote talks about what they saw as the future of the Palm computing platform. Jeff and Donna, who helped create the original PalmPilot, recently left 3Com to form HandSpring, a company that will be making Palm-compatible devices. When asked about their product plans, they demurred, pointing out that their product was at least a year from shipping.

Palm and Apple

Apple had a session at the conference as well. Clent Richardson, VP of Worldwide Developer Relations, gave a rousing talk about how Apple wanted to work with Palm, and how Apple wanted to be the preferred platform for developing Palm software. Apple announced a special offer to Palm Developers, where they could get an iMac with 96 MB of memory, a USB to serial converter, and a one year ADC Select membership for $999. See <http://developer.apple.com/palm/> for details. At the time this article is going to print, the offer is only valid through January 31, 1999.

Other Fun Stuff

The "company store" at the conference had all sorts of Palm add on accessories, including leather cases, connections to cell phones, page modules, and lots of books. Neil Rhodes and Julie McKeehan's new book "Palm Pilot Programming" was a big hit, with the store selling out on the second day of the show. Look for a review of this book in an upcoming issue of MacTech.

On the last day of the conference, Symbol held a programming contest. The contest was to write the coolest program that used the special features of the Symbol 1500 (i.e, the bar code scanner). The winners were:

1st Place: Steve Patt, Stevens Creek Software
Application: Pizza Scan

Pizza Scan is a hand held ordering solution for a fictional pizza restaurant, named "Patt's PalmPilot Pizza Palace". All you have to do is point the Symbol SPT 1500 to the items you want to order. The application summarizes the order, totals the amount, and prints out a receipt to a printer.

2nd Place: Neil Rhodes, Calliope, Inc.
Application: Book Keeper

This application is used to keep an inventory of the books that you have at home or at the office. You scan the ISBN numbers off the books, and it puts the information into a database. A great enhancement to this would be to have the conduit look up the name and author from the Library of Congress when you HotSync.

3rd Place: John Major, Cimmeron
Application: Scan Dance

Scan Dance is a fun application that allows you to develop songs using the Symbol SPT 1500 Scan technology in conjunction with a sheet of barcodes with musical notes assigned to the barcodes. You scan the music (written in barcodes), and the Palm plays it. You can either scan a sequence of notes, or pick the notes yourself, one at a time.

Most Unusual (Coolest) Application: 1st Place Ben Gottlieb, Stand Alone, Inc.
Application: Maurice Code

The Maurice Code application lets you send and receive Morse Code using the laser in the bar code scanner.

Feelings

All in all, this was a very upbeat conference. It had a lot of the same enthusiasm that I used to feel at the Apple Developer's conference, back before Apple's troubles became acute. I am looking forward to see what the Palm developers come up with in the next year.

Bibliography and References


Marshall Clow is a programmer. He has worked for Palomar Software, Hewlett-Packard, and Aladdin Systems. Among other things, he has written PICT Detective, Aladdin's Resource Compression Toolkit, and way too many resource processing tools. He currently works for Adobe Systems, where his title is "Bad Influence". When he's not coding, he can be found mountain biking or checking out microbreweries. He can be reached at <mclow@mailhost2.csusm.edu>

 
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