You've got (compressed) mail!
These three services differ in the way they handle e-mail, how they browse the Web, and the type of network they operate on.
Palm VII e-mail. The Palm VII ships with the same e-mail application as the III and V series. This app synchs with your desktop e-mail client through your synch cradle (connected by a cable), downloads incoming messages from it, and uploads outgoing messages to it.
The VII also ships with an application named iMessenger, which Kruger says is "meant to be a short messenger application." The goal with the Palm VII, Kruger says, is to have a simple, out-of-the-box experience for the user, with no configuration. ("Out of the box" in this case means take it out and use it, not think outside of the box to set it up.) Users who buy a Palm VII also sign up for the Palm.net service and receive a palm.net e-mail address.
Other e-mail (either IMAP or POP3) can be accessed by sending it through iMessenger, and if it's a POP account, Kruguer says "if (the server) exposes a connection, then you would be able to access it through something like (third-party solution) ThinAirMail"
Palm VII users send mail via their palm.net address, but can specify a different reply-to address if they want.
OmniSky lets you access up to six POP3 accounts, and you can send mail through those accounts. OmniSky's e-mail client features filtering and message topping, which displays the first 500 characters of a message, with an option to get the rest. OmniSky product manager John Hanay says their research suggests the first several screens of a message is often as much as people want.
Palm.net's walled garden
Palm.net and OmniSky differ only slightly in how they handle e-mail, but the difference browsing the Web is much greater.
While OmniSky and Go America theoretically offer access to any URL on the Web (except for sites dependent on Flash or Java), Palm.net's reach is something more like a walled garden.
The Palm VII net doesn't retrieve whole Web pages, but relies on web clipping, which retrieves pared-down data from the servers. Palm's Kruger says web clipping is more efficient for a handheld computer, designed to minimize the number of clicks needed to get at something, as well as to alleviate the frustration of long downloads over a slow, wireless connection onto a small screen.
To access sites on the Palm VII, you need to install (or build and then install, if no one else has built one for that site), a Palm query application (the file extension is .pqa). "You have to have someone to architect this," says IDC's House. "It's standard HTML, and it's not a big deal, but you still have to do it." Palm offers the web clipping development kit for free on Palm.net.
"We conducted focus groups to ask people what they want," Palm's Kruger says. "Web clippings today probably cover 98 percent of what they want." He adds that that there are third-party applications for open URL browsing, but "they don't work really well."
House likens the Palm.net experience to joining a gym. "When you buy access to a gym, you have access to the equipment in that gym, but if they don't have treadmills, then you don't have access to them. Similarly, if Palm.net doesn't offer access to Wired magazine or Amazon.com, then you can't access it." (Luckily, it does.)
"That's why it's klugey," she argues. To date there are over 425 Web clipping apps there for the downloading. But House says that compared to how many sites are out there, "It really doesn't seem like that much."