OmniSky: off-roading on the open web
Plans and pricing
(As of September 1, 2000)
Go America's Go.Lite costs $9.95 per month for the first 25 kilobytes of data, $0.10 for each additional kilobyte of data on the CDPD network, and $0.30 for each additional kilobyte of data on the Mobitex network.
The Go.Unlimited plan costs $59.95 per month for unlimited access with all supported devices except the Palm III (i.e., Palm Vs. They also support RIM Blackberry machines). Get a Minstrel III wireless modem for the Palm III and you can use Go.Unlimited for only $49.95 a month.
The OmniSky modem costs $299.99, and unlimited access is $39.95 per month. OmniSky was offering a $150 rebate on the modem/service in August as a promotional special.
Palm VII service plans range from the Basic Plan for $9.99 (50 kilobytes) to $44.99 for the Unlimited Volume Plan.
OmniSky's service relies heavily on sites optimized for Palm, too, but it also offers users the ability to surf any URL.
"We want that walled garden (the number of sites optimized for handhelds) as big as possible," says Chris Weasler, OmniSky's director of content, adding that there are over 1,000 sites available through the OmniSky portal that have been optimized for handhelds.
OmniSky will also help sites develop handheld-friendly sites, either through leveraging what they've already done, using a product from Aether systems called Scout Web to set up a developer template, or by referring sites to third-party web-to-wireless ASPs such as Everypath, ViaPhone and 2Roam.
"We don't want to fence our users into that (the so-called walled garden)," Weasler says. "There will be a time when you have to get to that other information. Our users may only want to access 10 or 20 sites on a daily basis, but they don't want us to pick those sites for them."
Palm.net runs on the Mobitex network through BellSouth Wireless Data, a slightly older network technology that, according to Andrew Seybold's Wireless Roadmap, has a maximum throughput of 8 Kbps.
OmniSky runs on a CDPD (Cellular Digital Packet Data) network that tops out at 19.2 Kbps – twice as fast, in theory. Palm.net and OmniSky both offer fixed rate plans, although Palm originally started out charging per kilobyte.
One other advantage that OmniSky's Weasler touts is that their network runs PQAs on the server side, "which allows us to aggregate a ton of content without a memory footprint on their device." Since these devices have considerably less RAM than desktops or laptops, that's a big advantage to a content provider, because any time they want to update or change their applications, they give it to OmniSky, and users get it automatically.
Two remaining questions
First, why is it that Palm's high-end model, the Palm VII, offers a lesser web browsing experience than its older models? Simple: the Palm VII was the first integrated wireless solution for getting onto the Web, at least in North America.
While it still doesn't allow open Web surfing, it was a trailblazer for the wireless web. IDC's House notes that, although they lost money on it, "for the market it was a good decision. It jump-started the wireless web market for everyone and made it sexy." The third party solutions that came after were able to improve on it.
Second, if all but two Palm models already access the Internet, why would Yankowski bother to set wireless access as a goal at all?
"What Yankowski was referring to is the Mobile Internet Kit, which is coming out before the end of the year," says Palm's Kruger.
The Mobile Internet Kit -- Dataquest's McGuire calls it a "combination software patch" -- is a CD with a WAP browser, web clipping, and an e-mail client. It also allows users to access information via infrared beam or through a cable that would connect a Palm device to a wireless phone. It's not an easy, out-of-the-box solution, but it's targeted less at consumers and more at mobile professionals -- especially international travelers.
However the future struggle between Palm and PocketPC plays out, one thing is for certain: wireless connectivity is a must for both platforms. "Wireless communications or a full-blown web session or some variation is what's going to make this class of PDAs something more than a couple hundred dollars to replace five dollars worth of paper," McGuire says. "That what makes them grow in the long term."
John Ochwat is a former editor for Upside magazine and contributes to numerous tech publications.
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