HP to offer unlocked Palm Pre 2 to small business

The unlocked UMTS phone will be sold mainly to developers but also in HP's small-business channel

Hewlett-Packard plans to sell the unlocked version of its Palm Pre 2 to small businesses as well as to mobile application developers.

The company disclosed plans for an unlocked Pre 2 for developers when it announced the phone on Oct. 19. Though the primary audience for the unlocked device will be developers of apps for the new WebOS 2.0 operating system, HP will also sell the Pre 2 through its small-business channel, according to spokeswoman Leslie Letts.

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HP introduced the Pre 2 through French mobile operator SFR last month and said it would go on sale at Verizon Wireless and a Canadian carrier in the coming months. HP also said it would sell the handset directly to WebOS developers, with qualified developers getting a significant discount. The unlocked phone will work on UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications System) networks, the 3G variant of GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications), used by AT&T and T-Mobile USA in the U.S.

In a YouTube video posted last week by Markguim.tv, HP Palm product manager Tim Pettitt said the company would offer an unlocked Pre 2 so that "if you're a GSM user that wants to have the device but don't want to have a carrier contract, then you can just buy it directly from HP.com."

The Pre 2 is the first major Palm product to come out since HP bought Palm earlier this year. It comes with a moderate hardware upgrade, with a 1GHz processor, 5-megapixel camera and other features, but more importantly runs the next-generation WebOS 2.0 operating system. Among other improvements, the new OS will be compatible with Adobe Flash 10.1 and QuickOffice Connect and will allow users to perform tasks immediately by typing on the physical keyboard.

With its acquisition by HP, the once independent Palm became part of a technology giant with well-developed channels into large enterprises and small and medium-size businesses as well as retail stores. It remains to be seen whether the larger company can make Palm products more competitive in a smartphone industry that has only become more cutthroat since the buyout deal was made in late April.

The Palm Pre, introduced last year by the independent Palm company, won praise from many observers for its slick slider design and multitasking WebOS software. That OS had been years in development and represented Palm's final bid to regain share in the smartphone business. But it failed to grab enough consumers' attention amid new iPhone, Android and BlackBerry rollouts, and by early this year Palm was still reporting big losses and carriers were slashing prices on the Pre and its smaller sibling, the Pixi.

Most mobile phones in the U.S. are sold by carriers and locked for use only on their networks and those of their roaming partners. Google sold its Nexus One handset on its own website, including in an unlocked model, but stopped selling it in July after only a few months of sales.

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