Palm Computing is looking at ways to popularise its Palm handheld computers in the mainland, including the possible release of a Chinese-language operating system. Palm announced new products and services aimed at business users of its Palm computer at its developers' conference in California last week, hinting a colour-screen device would be released in the first half of next year. Worldwide, Palm has more than 23,000 registered developers, who have written about 4,000 programs for handheld PC devices. But in the mainland, it has only 100 registered independent software developers - who write the third-party software crucial to a device's popularity. A Chinese version of the Palm OS could help spur the popularity of handheld devices. Japan remains Palm's emphasis in Asia. About 800,000 handheld computers were sold there last year, according to technology consultancy International Data Corp (IDC). Palm released a Japanese-language version of its operating system in March and updated its Japanese-language tools at last week's PalmSource conference, attended by 2,000 software and hardware developers. IDC said only 26,000 handheld PCs were sold in Hong Kong and 6,000 in the mainland last year. Palm did not give specific sales figures in Asia, but said Asia was its fastest-growing market. Most of the more than five million people worldwide who use Palm computers are consumers, but Palm hopes to change that. New products such as a hotsync server software and an Ethernet cradle both help users synchronise their devices with company servers without going through desktop computers, allowing workers outside the office easier remote access to corporate databases. These moves, which include the addition of help desk and other support services, are part of Palm's efforts to sell bulk orders to businesses. Palm computers at present support only grey-scale screens, but version 3.5 of its operating system supports colour, and executives confirmed colour devices are being developed. They declined to say whether these would be made by Palm or other companies. The problem with colour screens - already available on rival devices using Microsoft's Windows CE operating system - is that they require more power. Craig Will, 3Com's director for Japan and Asia-Pacific, said no device would be released until the problem of longer battery life was solved. 'We want to implement colour in the right way,' he said, adding that colour had not taken off in other palm-sized devices. Palm does not yet plan an Asian release of its Palm VII device with built-in modem because most of the region lacks the necessary wireless networks. Executives said it was considering wireless devices that would use the GSM network in common use in Asia and Europe. Hong Kong partners are already working on hardware, such as a cradle that turns Palm devices into GSM phones and data modems. Mr Will said Palm was 'at ground zero' in the mainland, though it had no plans to follow Microsoft's aggressive licensing strategy, which he said would result in poor products and profits.