3Com's Palm VII Goes National, and Amazon Goes Everywhere - TheStreet

3Com's Palm VII Goes National, and Amazon Goes Everywhere

While wireless handheld Internet access may still be tangential to most of us, 3Com's efforts are a sign that things are changing.
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If you've been longing for one of the new

Palm VII

wireless devices, but are frustrated that they've only been for sale (above the counter, at least) in the greater New York City area, now's your chance: The Palm VII has gone national.

It also has dropped in price: Expect to pay around $450, not the previous $600 or so, for one -- and to get a free six-month upgrade to

3Com's

(COMS)

higher-volume connect-time contract at the basic service rate.

Overall, Palm VII connect-time fees -- measured by the number of screenfuls of data that users download -- have been cut by a third.

It's clear that ultimately, 3Com sees Palm VII hardware as a kind of loss-leader, which it's willing to sell at almost any figure over production and marketing costs, because the real return is in those Palm.Net subscription fees. Many new Palm VII users are floored by the effective cost of all that wireless communicating. And Palm.Net isn't just expensive -- it's

sloooow

, which of course makes it even more expensive.

Worse, wireless connect time on Palm.Net is so pricey that 3Com refuses to make the APIs, or coding, available for anyone to write software that would let users update and synchronize their Palm contact lists, or their corresponding desktop-PC contact lists, wirelessly. Palm execs concede that that would be so costly that users would bury Palm under a hailstorm of complaints.

A big challenge for Palm is to effectively conceal from its first few hundred thousand wireless customers just how expensive using the Palm VII is, lest they kill the goose expected to lay the golden eggs.

Palm also announced last week that e-tailer

Amazon.com

(AMZN) - Get Report

has joined the list of companies making information available to Palm VII users via Palm.Net connections. (

TheStreet.com

(TSCM)

, publisher of this site, is among those info providers delivering info on the Palm VII in the Palm's unique "Web clipping" form; I'm long TSCM.)

The national rollout, and the price cuts for the units themselves and for wireless service, were expected. No news there.

Nor is it surprising that Amazon.com has jumped in as the Palm VII's first e-commerce partner. Though I know Amazon as a stock has a certain odor among some

TSC

readers -- and also for a certain

TSC

meta-columnist -- this is exactly the kind of first-mover step I expect from Amazon.com.

If you're wondering, though, just how often you'll feel the urge to buy a book

right now

from Amazon, while you're stuck in traffic on the freeway or waiting around in an airport lounge ... well, me, too.

More interesting than playing that

huh?

game is to consider this an important step in the evolution toward making both the Web and e-commerce unexceptional experiences.

I've been waiting for this for two years, and I'm delighted to finally see this de-sizzling of the Web, and especially of e-commerce, come to life. I don't want the Web to be seen as a gee-whizzy thing, an exception, an exotic-but-kinda-fun activity.

I want the Web to be woven (sorry) into the fabric of our daily lives -- nothing special, just

there

. For some Web users, it already is. For most, though, it's not even close to that yet.

Similarly, I'm tired of e-commerce being seen as something different, unusual and out of the ordinary. Face it: E-commerce is already an obsolete term; it's just

commerce

, period. Forget the "e."

Because when we get past the ham-radio aspects of the Web and the giggly exotica of shopping via the Web, we'll be a lot better off. As consumers, we'll simply choose the most appropriate way to search for, select and buy something, whether through the Web or through a local bricks-and-mortar store (think: "immediate delivery"). As sellers, we'll see this as just another way of moving the goods (think: "expanding your market"). And as investors, because we'll evaluate e-commerce ventures by their prospects as sellers of goods and services, not by their Buck Rogers-style swashbuckling attitude and press releases (think: "profits, finally").

So I see this national roll-out of the Palm VII -- as much as I find it a limited and often frustrating device -- and this Amazon move into "wireless shopping" -- as seldom as I think I'll use that today -- as a modestly important step in the evolution of the Web.

Actually, count the wireless aspect of this as an important step, too. As long as we can use Net communications only when we're tethered to a phone jack or cable connection, we haven't fully folded the Web into our lives. (More on the progress of the

Wireless Revolution

, and the signposts investors must watch for, later this week.)

As an aside on the Palm stuff, I've been using the new

Handspring

PDA, based on the Palm operating system, for some time now, and generally like it better than the 3Com offerings. Better value, too. But not wireless 'til next spring. Bummer.

Jim Seymour is president of Seymour Group, an information-strategies consulting firm working with corporate clients in the U.S., Europe and Asia, and a longtime columnist for PC Magazine. Under no circumstances does the information in this column represent a recommendation to buy or sell stocks. At time of publication, Seymour was long TheStreet.com, although holdings can change at any time. Seymour does not write about companies that are current or recent consulting clients of Seymour Group. While Seymour cannot provide investment advice or recommendations, he invites your feedback at

jseymour@thestreet.com.