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When will Apple hook PDAs into the OS X digital hub?

One for the company's to-do list

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Comment Now here's a thing. In the Apple QuickTime demo of iTunes, which transfers music to its new iPod MP3 player, the device is shown mounted on the desktop - just like any other hard drive.

This is not such a surprise - iPod doubles up as a portable FireWire hard drive and appears on the Mac OS desktop to provide access to the files it contains. But this mix of hard drive and data unit brings to mind some of the early rumours surrounding how Palm and Apple were to integrate PDAs into the heart of Mac OS X.

It's time to think again how this will happen. Apple has mapped out the key elements for its digital hub strategy - except for the PDA. Digital video is encompassed in iMovie and iDVD; digital music is supported through iTunes and iPod; digital photography is supported by OS X's Image Grabber application. (We are awaiting the arrival of iPicture, the consumer-oriented image manipulation tool that Apple is said to have in the pipeline to complete this piece of the jigsaw.)

Organise your organiser

Apple clearly includes a PDA among the digital lifestyle devices that it expects users to hook up to their Macs. We also know that Apple has in the past worked with Palm on the matter, because Steve Jobs said so during his Macworld Expo San Francisco keynote. "We've been doing a lot of work with these guys lately," he said of the PDA pioneer. Heck, Jobs likes the product so much he (almost) bought the company.

Palm's line is that a new, OS X-native version of its Palm Desktop software will be released "later this year", and will be Carbonised, according to a company spokeswoman. It is rumoured to: show the PDA on the OS X desktop; automatically sync data stored on it; allow apps to be installed on the device by drag and drop; and data to be viewed by double-clicking on the appropriate icons. We also hear that most organiser data can be accessed through Palm Desktop's dock icon.
That's the rumour: Palm is saying nothing.

Making PDAs isn't lucrative - Jobs

Apple we haven't heard from, which we'll take as a tacit 'we don't comment on unannounced products'. Nor has the company commented on its relationship with Palm.

Perhaps that's because Jobs is not as keen on PDAs as he used to be. Certainly, he told Fortune that he no longer thinks PDAs are a lucrative market, but that was in an interview centred on iPod, and refers more to Apple as a possible PDA producer - it says nothing about supporting third-party devices.

After all, Jobs may claim the PDA market isn't a big deal right now, but his company continues to sell Palms and Handsprings on its Web site, and to try and sell iBooks on the back of the notebook's ability to "organise your organiser", according to the latest TV spots.

Palm is only half of the PDA story - there's PocketPC too. Information Appliance Associates' PocketMac provides the Mac synchronisation support so woefully ignored by Microsoft (doesn't it want to sell PocketPCs to Mac users, or does it just assume they're all Palm owners?). But there's surely need for a central personal information and PDA management system, just as iTunes acts as a digital music centre?

Who else can provide that but Apple? And if Apple wants the Mac to be truly the centre of our digital lives, it should provide such a solution. ®

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