Features

Palm reader

National | A new handheld hits the market, stores prepare for Klever-Karts, and automakers develop clean cars

Issue: "Paying the price," Feb. 9, 2002

Open Palm
Will the wireless handheld become as much a corporate tool as the cell phone? Palm took a step in that direction with a new PDA that can stay constantly connected to the Internet. The new model is a major step for the struggling computer giant. The company released the new i705 personal digital assistant late last month and sells it for $449, about twice the price of budget models. While it comes with a built-in antenna for wireless Web access-that's another $40 a month-it also sports a monochrome screen. Palm is targeting business users for this new device, although it may also be popular with gadget fans who have wanted an always-on Internet connection for years. The i705 is a symbol of Palm's promise-and it's problems. Palm delayed the release twice last year as the Santa Clara-based company felt the weight of last year's computer market meltdown. Still, it is the only always-on device available besides Research In Motion's BlackBerry e-mail pager, which is gaining popularity with business users. Palm produces both hardware and software. It licenses its Palm OS operating system to other companies, including IBM, Handspring, and Sony. The company is in a dogfight with Microsoft-and its market share dropped from 53 percent in the fourth quarter of 2000 to 43.6 percent a year later, according to the market-research firm IDC. Microsoft, by comparison, makes only software, and sales of units running PocketPC are growing. The i705's success or failure could be a major factor in Palm's future. Mobile marketing
The shopping cart is headed into the 21st century. A new model displays ads, recipes, and health information on a mounted screen. Some call it a new step in consumer marketing, but others are worried about creeping privacy problems. The new Klever-Karts, named for Salt Lake City-based Klever Marketing, may appear in stores in early summer. The PDA-like display will be attached to the handlebar so customers can look at the screen while they shop. Grocery stores can use them to promote products and announce specials. They can place special "trigger units" on store shelves that make displays show certain ads when carts pass them. What upsets privacy activists are plans eventually to use special membership cards with the Klever-Kart system. Shoppers would swipe the card and receive personalized information. Klever Marketing's website bills this future feature as a "powerful conduit for data mining and data warehousing," which means that the grocer can better use customer data to market goods. Carl Messineo, co-founder of Partnership for Civil Justice, called the technology "visual pollution" and said that stores want "a comprehensive profile not only of your shopping habits but your personality." Loyalty marketers brush aside charges that they are unnecessarily snooping. They claim the programs help the shopper because grocers can understand customer habits and make their stores more convenient. "The people who don't like it, they don't have to use it," Klever-Kart spokeswoman Pam Geiger said. "It's a personal choice." Will hydrogen cars bomb?
Imagine cars that need no gasoline, run on hydrogen, and leave behind water vapor instead of exhaust. They exist, at least on the drawing board. But while automakers have shown off prototypes of such vehicles, mass production could be a long time away. After years of work, the special engines are still very expensive. With coaxing from the federal government, the auto industry is trying to make special fuel cells, used first by NASA, into an economical way to power cars. The cells generate power via a chemical reaction between hydrogen and oxygen. Since hydrogen is inflammable, tanks must be strong and crash proof, which presents an engineering challenge. For these fuel cells to make it in the market, a system of hydrogen fueling stations would have to spring up, like today's gas stations. Such schemes so far have received massive government subsidies. In 1993, the Clinton administration launched an eight-year, $1.5 billion program to produce highly fuel-efficient cars. President Bush is replacing that program with a less expensive government/industry joint venture called Freedom CAR. But industry analysts remain skeptical of the idea. "One hundred years of the internal combustion engine is hard to overcome," said Thaddeus Malesh, an expert on fuel-cell technology with the market research firm J.D. Power and Associates. "It's the gold standard by which you measure everything: cost, service, availability, and performance."

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