PalmOne updates the Treo smartphone

PalmOne's long-awaited update to the Treo 600 will come with a new processor, sharper display and flash memory, as the company...

PalmOne's long-awaited update to the Treo 600 will come with a new processor, sharper display and flash memory, as the company continues to improve its flagship product.

The company unveiled the device, called the Treo 650, at the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association's Wireless IT and Entertainment conference.

PalmOne has opted to keep the same basic design with the launch of the Treo 650, said Greg Shirai, director of product marketing at PalmOne.

The Treo 600 was one of the first smartphone products to catch on with a wide audience. Smartphones are drawing a great deal of interest as replacements for personal digital assistants, a category PalmOne helped invent.

Shipments of unconnected PDAs have been falling steadily over the past two years as mobile phones have grown more sophisticated and capable of handling the basic personal information management tasks previously done by PDAs.

However, most of those mobile phones can't compete with the processing power of a PDA. This is where the smartphone comes in, combining powerful PDA-like performance along with voice capabilities.

"The centre of personal productivity will be these devices," said Ed Colligan, president of PalmOne. The current centre of personal computing, the PC, won't disappear but will survive as a session-based device, he said.

The Treo 650 is more powerful than its predecessor, Shirai said. PalmOne swapped Texas Instruments' 144MHz OMAP processor for Intel's 312MHz PXA270 processor, which should help improve the performance of multimedia applications on the Treo 650, he said.

Most users probably won't notice the difference in processing power because the speed of mobile phone networks is the real bottleneck for Treo users, said Sam Bhavnani, an analyst with Current Analysis.

On the other hand, the sharper display will have a very noticeable effect, Bhavnani said. The Treo 650's display has a resolution of 320 pixels by 320 pixels, which increases the visible area of the display and makes pictures and documents much clearer, he said.

Several software features were also improved on the Treo 650. The device can now wirelessly synchronise with Microsoft's Exchange e-mail software, allowing users to access their corporate e-mail stored on Exchange servers. Users can also access POP3 (Post Office Protocol 3) or IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) mail using the Versamail client, Shirai said.

The Exchange feature should help Treo users convince their corporate IT departments to get behind the product, Bhavnani said. Handhelds and smartphones based on Microsoft's Windows Mobile operating system tend to be more palatable to corporate users but PalmOne can make inroads into that market with Exchange support, he said.

IT managers need to give their employees "behind the firewall" e-mail support to make mobile devices a standard part of an enterprise's IT deployment, Colligan said. The new Treo 650 allows users to access up to eight different e-mail accounts, he said.

The Treo 650 now comes with 32Mbytes of flash memory, 23Mbytes of which are accessible to the user. Flash memory can store information without a constant electrical charge and is very attractive to users, who were forced to scramble for a power plug every time their devices started to run out of electricity, Shirai said.

After years of pleading from users to include flash memory in its products, PalmOne has rolled out that memory in two new products, including the Tungsten T5 PDA unveiled earlier this month.

Pricing for the Treo 650 was not available, but pricing for these products is usually determined by the mobile phone carriers that actually sell the phones. Without a new service plan, the Treo 600, for example, costs $479.99 (£261) for the GSM/GPRS (Global System for Mobile Communications/General Packet Radio Services) version and $599 for the CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) version. Those prices will fall when the Treo 650 is introduced, Shirai said.

The device will start to become available in the US from both GSM/GPRS and CDMA carriers over the rest of the year, and will be rolled out worldwide starting in 2005, Shirai said.

Tom Krazit writes for IDG News Service

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