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Palm Launches Treo 680 With Content Partners

Palm on Wednesday introduced its Treo 680 smartphone amid plenty of fanfare and even more partnerships.

The phone is available in four colors — crimson, copper, arctic and graphite — and retails for US$399. Cingular subscribers, however, can get the device for $199 through an exclusive deal with the nation’s largest wireless carrier.

“It’s good news for the segment that the operators are still interested in supporting these types of devices,” John Jackson, a wireless analyst with M:Metrics, told TechNewsWorld. “There appears to be this relatively healthy competition between the wireless carriers in this space.”

The Design

Offering the latest and greatest phones is part of that competition. Verizon landed Motorola’s Q and still has an exclusive on the device. Now, Cingular boasts the 680, which is a head-to-head competitor of the Q.

The Palm OS-based Treo 680 smartphone has an internal antenna and slim form factor, making the device smaller and sleeker than its predecessors.

Beyond the Treo 680’s new design, customers will find functionality that includes e-mail, Web browsing, messaging, multimedia, calendar and contacts.

“It’s no secret that Palm has been totally reliant on the good old fashioned Treo stub antenna form factor for quite some time. These guys are overdue for some further iteration of the form factor. This is it, and the fact that it’s bundled with all these services is a differentiator,” Jackson said.

“The partnerships are significant. I think those types of deals are going to be increasingly important because the space is becoming crowded yet again,” he added.

Riding the Wave

The Treo is riding the wave of smartphones that are flooding the market. In-Stat estimates that 25 percent of all wireless handsets worldwide will be PDAs and smartphones by 2011.

One of the challenges for device makers, then, will become the differentiation that Jackson mentioned. Palm is looking to get a head start with several partnership announcements.

Although Microsoft Mobile for Windows is gaining momentum, Good Technology on Wednesday announced the expansion of its device portfolio to include the Treo 680. Good’s mobile messaging software is a popular platform for mobilizing business information.

Market Differentiation

Beyond business applications, the Treo 680 is attracting some entertainment and information partners. The 680 will come with a music bundle that includes a 30-day free trial of Yahoo Music Unlimited to Go and Yahoo Music for Mobile.

The Treo 680 and the Treo 700p smartphones are among the first mobile phones to support streaming Flash-based movies, including those found on YouTube, with the release of the new Kinoma Media Player 4EX.

Handmark’s Pocket Express — a service that delivers free news, sports and weather plus 14 additional subscription services — will be part of the in-box CD included with the 680. Audible, the audio book giant, is shipping a free trial of AudibleListener with the 680 installation CD.

“Everybody is furiously iterating on these smartphones and making good progress, refining form factors and functionality,” Jackson said.

“With this accelerated stream of device announcements, it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish oneself. After all, at the end of the day it’s not about the hardware. It’s about the functionality. You are marketing utility and to do that it takes more than whiz-bang hardware,” he noted.

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