Palm takes on the BlackBerry (and the iPhone is in sight)


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Palm has become a refugee camp of sorts for former Apple employees. You can’t help but wonder if the Apple alumni who toil day and night trying to restore Palm to its PDA glory days don’t have a few axes to grind and things to prove.

A quick glance at Palm’s management team is a tour down Apple memory lane: Jon Rubinstein, Palm’s executive chairman, was the head of Apple’s iPod division; Mike Bell, Palm’s senior vice president of product development, was an Apple vice president of CPU software in the Macintosh hardware division.


Fred Anderson, Apple’s former chief financial officer, is a Palm board member. Brodie Keast, now Palm’s senior vice president of marketing, was once Apple’s vice president of worldwide product marketing (he made stops at TiVo and Seagate before heading to Palm).

And that’s just the executive team.

So what are they cooking up? Something big, they hint, for the consumer on Palm’s Centro platform, slated for early 2009. Think iPhone challenger.

But today, for the business consumer, Palm unveiled its BlackBerry competitor -- the Treo Pro, which is a smartphone powered by Microsoft’s mobile platform. The suggested retail price is $549, and since Palm has carrier partners in Europe and Australia, carriers will probably subsidize the cost. Palm currently doesn’t have a U.S. carrier for the Treo Pro, but it will go on sale in the fall at Palm’s online store and some online and bricks-and-mortar retailers. It’s a GSM tri-band world phone, so in the U.S. it will work with AT&T and, with some technical tweaking, T-Mobile.

The Treo Pro comes out as Research in Motion, the maker of BlackBerry, is coming out with its latest offering, the BlackBerry Bold. And Apple is pushing more into the workplace with its iPhone.

The Treo also reflects more concern over design -- it’s thinner and features contoured edges -- than does the previous model, showing the influence of Rubinstein, according to the New York Times. A few other features that are notable -- a screen saver; shortcuts that make it easier for people to turn Wi-Fi on and off, switch off the ringer and surf the Web; and quick access to e-mail and calendar.

Americans are buying fewer phones, says Silicon Alley Insider, but the ones they are buying are more expensive and can do more.


With an eye to global business users, Palm is offering an unlocked version of the phone, meaning the phone can be had without signing a two-year agreement with a carrier. That allows the business traveler to pick up a carrier on the road and bypass the expensive roaming charges.

‘People want a world phone,’ Keast said.

How many they want remains to be seen. But for today, the Palm team is celebrating. ‘This is a huge market that is growing explosively,’ Keast said. ‘We don’t need to defeat Apple and RIM to have success at Palm.’

-- Michelle Quinn