Palm Treo Pro steps into the smartphone ring

Running Windows Mobile 6.1, Palm's newest release will give enterprise users an operating system they are comfortable with

Palm unveiled on Wednesday the Treo Pro, a keyboard-enabled smartphone that will contend for a piece of the mobile market against such superstar players as Apple, Google, and Linux OS.

What the Pro lacks in glitz and glamour — it looks a lot like a RIM BlackBerry — it makes up for by using a tried-and-true operating system, Windows Mobile 6.1. Windows Mobile boasts hundreds of thousands of developers, both corporate and third party, who are familiar and comfortable with the Windows platform.

“The Windows OS and device makers are enjoying expanded adoption in the enterprise,” said Gerry Purdy, vice president and chief mobile analyst at Frost & Sullivan.

Windows Mobile has sold 20 million units in the past year and still growing, said Purdy, who predicts Windows Mobile will increase its presence in the enterprise even more in 2009.

While the form factor may not be significantly new, said Pete Daily, Integrated Program Manager at Frost & Sullivan, the fact that it uses Exchange also means that the device should integrate seamlessly with other core enterprise applications like Microsoft Office. But Daily considers the $549 retail price a bit steep.  

“There are no carrier partners in the U.S., which is why there are no subsidies but that also means there is no distribution channel,” said Daily.

Without carrier support, business users will have to rely on their own IT departments; IT, in turn, will have to rely on Palm itself to provide enterprise-level support, something Michael Akamine, senior product manager at Palm said the company is prepared to do.

“We have a team of enterprise sales engagements and tech systems engineers that work with enterprise customers,” said Akamine.

In the United States, the tri-band Treo Pro will be sold unlocked, allowing users to choose any GSM operator by simply installing a new SIM chip. At this point, Palm does not have a CDMA version, which rules out companies using Sprint or Verizon.

Nevertheless, the Treo’s success may come more from the business market. An unlocked version will give IT departments that deploy GSM cell phones the flexibility to choose a device that works with the company’s short list of approved carriers.

The Microsoft partnership will also give IT Microsoft Direct Push Technology, a direct link to Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 SP2 or 2007 for e-mail, contacts, and calendars.

Palm will also leverage Microsoft System Center Mobile Device Manager 2008 for security such as enforced password use, remote lockdown, updates, and access to the corporate network.

In addition, according to Akamine, partnering with Microsoft gives IT managers the ability to keep all data inside their own NOC (network operating center) rather than going out to a third party for a piece of the infrastructure. 

Other Treo features include IEEE 802.11b/g Wi-Fi, a 400MHz Qualcomm processor, Bluetooth, IR, 256MB of storage, and 128MB of RAM.

But the Palm also gives Microsoft something they needed, according to Ken Dulaney, chief mobile analyst with Gartner.

“Microsoft has had a shortage of good hardware to compete against BlackBerry. They upgraded to 6.1, which is a competitive platform but lacked the hardware,” said Dulaney.

The Treo fixes that problem and smoothes out some of Microsoft’s traditional rough edges when it comes to installation and networking, Dulaney said.

The unit also has a 2-megapixel camera, a microSDHC expansion slot, and USB.

The Treo measures 2.36 inches wide by 4.49 inches long and 0.53 inch deep, and it weighs 4.69 ounces. Units will ship in the fall.