Palm Unveils $99 PDA Phone


New York — Palm unveiled its lowest-priced PDA phone to date at $99, which is designed to broaden its customer base and entice consumers to step up from feature phones.
The company’s current PDA phones are priced from $199 to $299 on an everyday basis, excluding promotions. Prices include activation and rebates, the company said at a press conference during DigitalLife.
The new device, called the Centro, runs the full Palm OS and features touchscreen and hard QWERTY keyboard. It will be available through all Sprint Nextel direct and indirect channels in mid-October in high volumes through all of its almost 20,000 points of distribution on an exclusive basis through the holidays, Sprint said. Availability through other carriers after that wasn’t disclosed.

The Palm Centro

The new device will position the company to expand the PDA phone and smartphone niche, which accounted for only about of 5 percent of total U.S. cellular shipments in the United States in 2006, Palm said in citing IDC statistics. Size, design, complexity and price have held back the smartphone market, Palm CEO Ed Colligan said here during a press conference at the DigitalLife convention. Price especially “has been a real barrier to entry,” he said, but at $99, the Centro will appeal to people still in college, getting their first job, and others “who would traditionally buy a feature phone” but will now be able to more easily access email, browse the Web and access other Sprint features.

To appeal to that demographic, the phones incorporate clients for AOL, Windows Live and Yahoo! instant messaging; push email from commercial email services; and push email from corporate Microsoft Exchange servers. Likewise, it also features clients to access the YouTube and Flickr sites, Google Maps and a music/video player that plays MP3 and protected-WMA music files. It also features microSD card slot.

The Centro “will help us reach a new level of volume,” Colligan said. “We can really reach into a broader market.” To reach a broader market, the Centro is not designed to compete with the iPhone but is designed to go after Motorola Razr buyers and buyers of other traditional feature phones, he said.

To hit the $99 price point with a full Palm OS, said Colligan, Palm redesigned the hardware platform and worked with suppliers to hit the price point and yet “we maintain our level of profit.” He added, “It’s all about design and hardware integration and component selection.”

The CDMA 1x EV-DO phone, available in red/silver and black/silver finishes, accesses 90 percent of Sprint Power Vision services, including all Sprint TV channels and music channels but not over-the-air music downloading, Sprint Nextel VP Danny Bowman told TWICE. It incorporates GPS but not assisted GPS, which enables faster access to GPS satellites.

Bowman said he sees the market moving to a point at which “the feature phone is almost passé.” A big screen and ease of use, thanks to a touchscreen and QWERTY keyboard, “are what people want” and are willing to pay a premium for, he said. The ease of use delivered by the touchscreen and QWERTY keyboard “will make it easier for people to adopt our services,” he added.


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