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Palm to cash in on pay-by-PDA plan

Sorry, can't pay for lunch, I left my Palm in the office

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Palm unveiled its scheme to make its PDAs as indispensable as cash and credit cards by turning PalmOS into an e-money platform.

Palm's eWallet software, unveiled at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas over the weekend, holds credit card details and beams them via the PDA's infra-red port to retailers' tills. And it's all done at the push of a button, saving all that faffing about signing slips.

eWallet has the backing of Visa, so for once there's a good chance that this payment mechanism might actually make it into the wider world out of the small, local test sites that most e-money schemes never get beyond.

Palm's plan is also supported by Hewlett-Packard off-shoot VeriFone, which will be providing the encryption and security technology, and a company called Ingenico, which makes POS systems, apparently.

"The handheld will be transformed into a wallet this year," predicted Palm CEO Carl Yankowski. "It will act as a debit card in your Palm with a secure IR connection which will replace a card swipe."

We'll all be buying goods this way come next Christmas, he reckons.

This is one of those apps that PDAs were made for, but whether stores will want to install extra hardware for Palm users remains to be seen. Without widespread availability of IR terminals, the scheme will never amount to much - it has to be ubiquitous otherwise users will just fall back on their credit cards.

And with the population at large highly sceptical about electronic financial transactions, retailers may not be so keen on the new technology. When customers would rather take cash out of an ATM and immediately pay for their groceries with it rather than use the same card to pay for their goods electronically, you have to wonder whether most people really get life in the 21st Century. Payment-by-Palm may prove just too futuristic for them. ®

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