Three chip makers are planning to optimize Palm's personal digital assistant operating system for use with powerful ARM chips, which could result in Palm devices that can run more sophisticated applications.
Motorola and Intel have licensed the Palm OS to tie it to chips based on ARM. Texas Instruments plans to develop a wireless processing platform optimized for the Palm OS, according to Palm representatives. Intel will focus on the StrongARM and Xscale-based processors, while Motorola is optimizing the Palm OS to run on its DragonBall MX processor family.
Existing Palm PDAs use versions of Motorola's DragonBall, but this is the first such processor that will be based on the ARM core. Compaq's iPaq uses Intel's StrongARM, which gives the device more power than the competing Palm PDAs.
Palm is also working with UK chip designer ARM to migrate the Palm OS platform to ARM architecture, the company says.
ARM technology makes it possible to run more-advanced applications on the devices while using power more efficiently than existing devices, the vendors say. They expect the first new Palm OS devices that take advantage of the greater integration and the ARM core to ship in 2002.
Also, the optimized Palm OS might run on devices other than PDAs, such as smart phones, Web tablets, or digital media players, says Kyle Harper, Motorola's business development and strategy manager.
Palm will give its devices a power boost with these processors, says Martin Reynolds, a research fellow with analyst firm Gartner.
"It is a great move. The [current] Palm processor has been around for five years and hasn't really gone anywhere. At the same time, ARM is becoming ubiquitous and Microsoft has indicated it is the processor of its choice. I expect all handheld platforms to come together on ARM," Reynolds says.
"The performance is drastically greater. The processor is powerful enough to run all of the existing Palm applications through emulation. Palm has to do something, especially in the corporate market where it is losing ground to Microsoft and the Pocket PC," he adds.
The first test units from the chip partners are likely to be previewed at the Palm developers conference in October, notes Ronni Sarmanian, Palm's chief corporate spokesperson.
"People like you and me are happy because we'll have more devices to choose from," Sarmanian says. "Developers can think of new applications like streaming media, video, and more powerful chips."
Motorola expects battery life could be extended up to 12 times that of current devices, when its DragonBall MX1 is incorporated.
"If there's a product out there using this [MX1], the difference is that if it is supposed to run until the end of breakfast, we can make it last to the end of the day," says Motorola's Harper.
The Motorola system-on-a-chip greatly reduces the need for external cards, cutting the power consumption that expansion slots on wireless and handheld devices require and reducing associated costs, he adds.
"Our job in the DragonBall product line is absolutely to be Pac Man and gobble everything off the other chips," Harper says. "This frees up space for graphics, media processing, and quite a few other things that are in store."