What’s thinner than the traditional Palm Treo but bigger than the Palm Centro and has no wireless carrier subsidy tied to its $549 price point?
The answer is Palm’s (Nasdaq:PALM) latest smartphone, the Treo Pro, which debuted today. While getting good reviews for new features, the device is also sparking speculation about why the third-place handset maker went to market without a carrier partner in tow.
“Palm usually partners to launch a new handset, then after months the exclusive deal becomes available to all carriers,” Jeff Kagan, telecom analyst, explained to InternetNews.com. “We saw that with the most recent Centro. Palm eventually does make handsets available without a carrier but that’s usually after they go through this process,” Kagan said.
Like every player in the mobile device industry, Palm is aiming to grab a greater slice of the market share as the industry continues to experience double-digit growth over last year. The vendor, which held 13.16 percent market share as of the first quarter of 2008, is following fellow handset makers that are continually dangling new devices to entice users.
The Treo Pro arrives just weeks after Palm debuted its Treo 800w smartphone on the heels (and in the shadow, some would argue) of Apple’s 3G iPhone launch.
Ryan Reith, IDC senior research analyst, described the Treo as “nice,” but admitted he’s perplexed at Palm’s market strategy. He said Palm told analysts in pre-briefings that it decided to offer the Treo as unlocked — not tied to any carrier network — due to customer demand.
Yet industry watchers don’t see big demand in the U.Ss for unlocked devices, and pundits wonder if the strategy is tied to other issues such as tough carrier negotiations, an attempt to beat Research in Motion’s impending BlackBerry Bold launch or the possibility that the Treo Pro failed to meet carrier testing requirements.
In response Palm told InternetNews.com that the device is wanted by professionals who want to choose their own carrier and data plans.
“It allows users to structure their life around their priorities without sacrificing work productivity,” a Palm spokesperson wrote in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.
“We are not announcing any U.S. carriers at this time,” Palm said, adding it would only confirm the device works on AT&T’s GSM network.
AT&T said in an email to InternetNews.com that it does not comment on devices ” that may or may not launch with AT&T.”
In response to questions about competing with RIM’s upcoming Bold, Palm said its product launch dates “correspond to when we have the best product available to market—whenever that may be.”
The handset maker noted there are several major differences between the Treo Pro and the Bold device, such as a touch screen, a full QWERTY keyboard and five-way navigation.
“Being a RIM device, the BlackBerry Bold will use RIM’s network operations center meaning it will be subject to the same highly publicized email outages RIM suffered a few times this year,” Palm stated. “By using the Microsoft Exchange Server, the Treo Pro, like all Palm devices, will not,” Palm said.
Calls to RIM on the product comparison were not returned by press time.
The Treo Pro, designed with a black glossy look, is the thinnest Treo to date yet. Palm said the slim downed version has not impacted features or functionality.
The first GSM Treo to run on a Windows Mobile. 6.1 platform includes WiFi connectivity accessible via a dedicated shortcut key function. It’s also the first time Palm has integrated GPS into a Treo product, though it’s been an add-on feature in previous models.
“It’s got all the bells and whistles of a good smartphone and the features you find in high- priced packages,” said Reith, noting though the device isn’t “that much different” from the Treo 800w though the through-put data speed on the Pro appears faster.
But whether a bit more speed will push Palm further up the market ladder is a big question. Reith and Kagan aren’t convinced mobile device users are willing to dole out hundreds of dollars for the option of choosing a carrier.
“The key today is innovative design,” said Reith. “That’s what users are looking for.”