Palm Updates webOS, Pixi Debuts

Palm’s latest upgrade to its mobile operating system as well as its second franchise smartphone are both available today, joining the flurry of key releases in the wireless sector aimed at the holiday season.

The Pixi, the entry-level, smaller sibling of the Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) Pre, is on sale today for $99.99 and available through carrier partner Sprint, marking Palm’s next step in nurturing its fledgling webOS ecosystem.

Also available today is the over-the-air update for to webOS 1.3.1, which integrates users’ account information from Yahoo (NASDAQ: YHOO), Outlook, Facebook, Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and LinkedIn with Palm Synergy, the feature that streamlines all of a user’s accounts into one view.

The upgrade also includes some e-mail features, such as improved formatting in forwarded messages, new shortcuts for common tasks and the ability to forward and copy individual text and instant messages, said Jon Zilber, online communications director for Palm, in a blog post.

Even amid the ongoing economic slump that has sapped overall mobile phone sales, smartphone sales continue to surge, prompting unprecedented competition in the sector from both hardware makers and wireless carriers.

Palm’s Pixi debut and webOS update come on the heels of a slew of new smartphone releases by all the major players in the lucrative sector. Research In Motion’s Storm2, Motorola’s Cliq and Droid, HTC’s Eris, myTouch and Hero and Samsung’s Moment and Behold II all arrived on time for the fourth-quarter shopping season.

As Palm pins its hopes for reversing its slumping performance on the webOS-powered Pre and Pixi, the open source mobile platform Android is also beginning to gain traction in the industry.

In a parallel strategy to Palm and its webOS, Motorola is betting on Android handsets, the Cliq and Droid, to bring the company back to profitability. HTC’s Hero and Eris and Samsung’s Moment and Behold are also joining the Android family of new challengers.

Meanwhile, everyone is trying to unseat Apple’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) iPhone 3GS, introduced in June, as the preeminent smartphone — and money-maker. Apple recently posted its most profitable quarter in company history, largely due to sales of the iPhone.

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