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Palm Seeks To Expand PDA Phone User Base

Palm hopes to expand the potential base of PDA phone users by teaming with carrier Cingular to launch the industry’s lowest-priced PDA phone at $199.

The quad-band GSM/EDGE Treo 680 is designed to attract consumers stepping up to their first PDA phone or smartphone and to encourage enterprises to issue PDA phones to more employees, said product manager Phil McClendon.

Although price is a key factor in broadening the potential customer base, Palm turned to design and features to widen the device’s appeal. The device is slimmer than any other Treo and is the first Treo available in different colors. Dialing is also faster.

The price, based on a two-year voice and $49.99/month unlimited-data contract, is about $100 lower than the launch prices of other PDA phones with similar airtime plans. The Treo 680, like other phones incorporating a full-fledged PDA operating system, offers touch screens and the ability to create and edit documents, McClendon said. At $199, similar phones offer a QWERTY keyboard, lack a touch screen and feature document viewers that are unable to create documents, he explained. Such phones are based on an operating system such as Windows Mobile 5.0 smartphone edition. PDA phones based on Palm software or on Windows Mobile PocketPC phone edition range from $300 to $400.

The 680, which combines a touch screen and QWERTY keyboard, is available through Cingular-branded stores, national retailers, and Cingular’s B2B sales team. Palm is also offering the device through its Web site and Palm-branded retail locations as an unlocked $399 model that accepts a current GSM subscriber’s SIM card.

Because the device supports enterprise e-mail applications, it will push PDA-phones down to a new tier within enterprises, said McClendon. Because it accesses personal Web mail accounts, it will appeal to people who want to use one device instead of two to balance their work and personal lives, he added.

The unlocked Treo 680 is available for preorder beginning Nov. 22 at Palm’s Web site and, after Dec. 1, in Palm’s 28 U.S. retail stores, located mostly in airports. Through Cingular, it’s available Nov. 24.

Palm made the price more affordable by making “board-level improvements,” using 2.5G EDGE data technology instead of 3G technologies such as CDMA 1x EV-DO or W-CDMA, incorporating VGA camera instead of a megapixel camera, and deleting the external antenna, McClendon said.

Besides price and slimmer form factor, other elements expand the device’s appeal, including an improved phone application allowing for faster dialing; the ability to ignore calls with a quick text message that tells a caller “I’m in a meeting” or “Can’t talk now;” and an improved QWERTY keyboard to make it easier to type e-mails or SMS messages;

The Treo 680 smart device also can be used as an MP3 player and has an integrated digital camera, camcorder and video player, with simpler organization for photos and photo slideshows.

“The Palm Treo 680 will open up the popular Palm experience to a much wider audience of Cingular customers,” said Jeff Bradley, vice president, business data services, for Cingular Wireless. “This next-generation Treo comes with all of the outstanding business features that Palm devotees have come to expect plus rich entertainment capabilities, and all at a very attractive price that will appeal both to businesses and individual users.”