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Two strange bedfellows, one new smart phone

Longtime rivals Microsoft and Palm announce new smart phone, but some key details still missing.
The new Treo, which resembles the current 650, doesn’t officially have a model number yet.BW

If you could sit down and build the ultimate smart phone, what pieces would you use? Palm’s very popular Treo hardware might be a good start. You then might want to add Microsoft’s mobile operating system for its multimedia capabilities. And, to take advantage of everything your new device could do, you might decide to use Verizon’s super-fast wireless broadband network.

If that sounds good to you (and it should), then you can save a lot of time and effort by waiting a few months for the new Palm Treo that will run on Windows Mobile 5.0 and will use the Verizon EV-DO network.

Longtime rivals Microsoft and Palm announced the new device and their unlikely partnership at a big news conference here today. Details and pictures of the new Treo had been circulating on a number of gadget Web sites, however, so the announcement had a slight undertone of being put together quickly to counter the rumor mill. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

The news conference, attended by Palm CEO Ed Colligan, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates and Verizon Wireless CEO Denny Strigl, left open as many questions as it answered. First of all, according to the people on the podium, the new Treo doesn’t officially have a model number yet — despite being tagged the 700w on several gadget Web sites. Plus, everyone was mum on details of what’s inside the phone — except that it has an Intel processor.

However, the details that were on offer made it clear that the new Treo, which in appearance is similar to the current Treo 650, will be a formidable device.

Up until now, Palm’s very popular Treo smart phones ran on Palm’s operating system.  But now that Palm, Inc. has sold the OS software division they’re free to experiment with another.  They’ve chosen Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 5.0 platform — which offers Outlook Mobile, Office Mobile, Internet Explorer Mobile and, most important of all, direct access to corporate e-mail accounts via Exchange Server 2003.  Add to that a built-in wireless modem for Verizon’s high-speed EV-DO Broadband Access network — and you have quite a competitor.

Palm and Microsoft have done a lot of work melding the two products. They’ve added features such as the ability to contact someone quickly from the Today (home) screen, including dialing someone by tapping their photo. You can decline a phone call by silently responding with a text message and you can quickly rewind, delete or fast-forward your way through your home, work or cell phone voice mail.

Everyone made it clear that this new smart phone would be in addition to the Palm OS-based Treos. Verizon Wireless expects to continue to sell Treo 600s and 650s. We were told to expect that the new Treo would be a little more expensive to buy because of the addition of the EV-DO modem circuitry. But no one discussed how much it will cost to run the new device or whether there will be discount packages offered. Currently, EV-DO modem card service for PCs costs $60 a month.

Verizon seems to have at least a six-month head start on other wireless providers. Palm said that Treos with Windows Mobile would be available on other wireless platforms sometime after the middle of next year.

Full product details will be made available when the new Treo is available for purchase, set for early in 2006.