As expected, Palm unveiled a forthcoming Treo smart phone running Microsoft's Windows Mobile 5.0 at a press conference in San Francisco Monday. The device will be available in the U.S. early next year.
Few specific details about the device were released, but Palm President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Colligan called the Windows Treo a "historic" product that the company hopes will help it become a supplier to IT departments around the world. The Treos combine the functionality of a PDA (personal digital assistant) with the ability to make phone calls and browse the Internet.
Colligan was joined on stage by Microsoft Chairman and Chief Software Architect Bill Gates and Verizon Wireless President and Chief Executive Officer Denny Strigl, whose company will be the exclusive provider of the Windows Treo for several months.
"This is our first 3G product," Colligan said. Verizon's growing EV-DO (Evolution-Data Only) network based on CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) technology allows download speeds between 400K bps (bits per second) and 700K bps in some parts of the U.S.
Verizon provided much of the impetus for the deal, said Joe Fabris, director of wireless and business marketing at Palm, in an interview after the press conference. Palm and Microsoft had talked about working together for a while, but Verizon's interest in a Windows Treo for its EV-DO network persuaded the companies to put their heads together, he said.
The companies have been working on the product for several years, Colligan said, but word of the device had trickled out on handheld enthusiast Web sites like Engadget (http://www.engadget.com) over the last few months.
Palm's Treo 600 and 650 have been hot sellers, but most of them have been bought by individuals for personal use. The devices run the venerable Palm OS, which has been the exclusive operating system for Palm's devices since the company's inception.
However, Windows Mobile 5.0 allows users to hook their Treos into their corporate Exchange e-mail servers and deploy corporate applications written for Windows on the phone, Colligan said.
Microsoft believes that eventually all professionals will have a phone that allows them to access their e-mail, Gates said. This device will allow Microsoft to tap into the growing demand for Palm's devices, he said.
Microsoft and Palm also worked together to build some of Palm's application expertise into the Windows Treo, allowing Palm to differentiate the Treo from other Windows Mobile 5.0 products sold by companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Colligan said.
Colligan did not directly address the future of the Palm OS within Palm's smart phones and PDAs in Monday's press conference. He called the Microsoft announcement an "expansion" of Palm's product line, saying "this is not about other things going away. This is about growth."
Afterward, Fabris declined to comment on the possibility of Windows Mobile-based Zire and Tungsten PDAs, but Allen Bush, director of business marketing for Palm, said Palm will continue to release updated versions of Palm OS-based Treos.