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Palm Unveils $99 PDA Phone

Palm unveiled its lowest-priced PDA phone to date at $99 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 new device, called the Centro, runs the full Palm OS and features a touchscreen and a 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 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.”

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

The Centro “will help us reach a new level of volume,” Colligan said. “We can really reach into a broader market.”