Going wireless with the Palm V

For the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with OmniSky’s new wireless service for the Palm V and I have to admit that it has affected my wireless usage. Running over AT&T’s CDPD network, the service allows Palm V users to get full access to the net at speeds of up to 19.2kbps.

Priced at $300 for the modem and a $40 monthly rate for unlimited access, the service is still not cheap but it is starting to approach the reasonable area once you realize how much you can do with it.

The basic software package comes with some of the same clips that are available on the Palm VII and a few extra programs like a full mail package which allows you to connect to your POP3 server. However, I decided to get rid of that piece of software once I discovered Ptelnet, a small telnet client for the palm. This allows me to access a Unix server on which I not only have an email client but also a Usenet client, as well as a web browser (lynx) and an FTP client.

As a result, this telnet client works as the perfect on the road kit.

For more graphically oriented pages, I use Proxiweb, a full web browser that allows me to surf web pages directly from my pilot. The proxinet server converts the pages in a format that is easily readable by the pilot.

Of course, one of the main attraction of a wireless pilot is quick access to relevant information. Using Palm computing’s proprietary tools, several companies have developed PQAs that allow users to quickly check certain pages. Amazon.com, for example, allows you to order directly from your pilot, Ebay allows you to track your auctions in progress, and Etrade allows you to trade stocks. However, those are not the applications I found myself using the most.

I’ve discovered that the most interesting ones tend to be the information PQAs. For example, I can now check flight delays at the airport (perfect for travelers), track FedEx packages, get directions using mapquest, or grab headlines from a variety of sources including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and USA Today.

On the more techno-centric end, one can also grab headlines from Slashdot, news.com, and ZDNN. I find myself reading from my connected Palm when I am waiting for a meeting, in transit in a cab, or waiting for a plane at the airport. It’s the perfect way to stay productive wherever I am.

Palm computing knows that in order to keep its lead, it needs to offer tools for developers. As a result, they have introduced a small program that allows developers to create PQAs. The process is relatively quick (put together a few small HTML pages, trim a few images, check your links to make sure that they show up properly on the Palm.) However, one tricky part is creating web server pages that will display properly on the Palm.

I’d like to urge developers to do as much as possible to separate content from presentation when they create pages. In the case of TNL.net, the site is templatize according to one’s browser. So if someone comes in with a Palm (the user agent tag includes the word Elaine so you can clearly get it filtered), I serve up a less graphic intensive template.

This has allowed me to develop a little application allowing people to read this newsletter from their wireless Palm.

As an increasing amount of wireless device start to pop up, separating content and presentation will be increasingly important. The sites that do so already will gain an essential edge in this next section of the market while others will remain far far behind, stuck in legacy HTML code. If you don’t do that separation right now, you will find yourself in tougher and tougher a situation as the amount of content on your site keeps increasing.

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