Palm launches Treo 680 smartphone

Posted by Wolfgang Gruener

Sunnyvale (CA) - Palm today launched the previously announced Treo 680, which currently complements the firm's smartphone portfolio, but is expected to succeed the aging 650 model. The 680 comes in flashy colors and Palm hopes that the new model, while not offering groundbreaking new features, can regain lost market share.

You don't have to look twice to see the differences between the outgoing 650 model and the new smartphone generation. The extra bump for the antenna is finally gone, the keyboard layout has been slightly revised and the overall shape has a more modern and elegant appearance.

Under the hood, there aren't many surprises. The device relies on Palm OS 5.4 as operating system, which powered by an Intel (now Marvell) PXA270 312 MHz processor with "Bulverde" core, which was first released mare than three years ago. There is a320x320 pixel color display, Bluetooth wireless capability as well as 64 MB available Flash memory. Somewhat disappointing is the fact that Palm chose to use a somewhat outdated camera with 640x480 pixel resolution, with videos limited to a 352x288 size.

What makes the 680 interesting is its role within the Palm product lineup. According to a September 2006 press release by Palm, the company planned to "address the market dynamics responsible for [the] first quarter revenue shortfall with two major product launches." One model aims to "improve" Palm's pricing position, the other one was described to enhance "carrier relationships to global markets."

treo 680

In this context, the 680 is clearly aimed to expand Palm's carrier reach, as the company described in its October 12 announcement of the Treo 680. However, this model will also mark Palm's entry-level price point for smart phones, as the higher end 750 version is gearing up for launch in the near future.

The new phone is available for $200 from Cingular with a two-year service contract - the same as the 650 - and is selling for $400 as unlocked version. In contrast to the rather plain design of the 650, the 680 is available in more colors - including orange, white and red - and is positioned to appeal to an expanded user group beyond the mobile professional.

Market research firm IDC calls this new, emerging smartphone market the "pro-sumer segment" - which is already populated with such devices as the the Motorola Q and the Blackberry Pearl. Rather than focusing on corporate applications, such smartphones include software and functionality that concentrated on a more personal use. According to IDC analyst Ramon Llamas, it is a niche market at this time but it is expected to "grow a lot going forward." Llamas wasn't ready to predict just much or how fast this segment may grow down the road and if it will be enough to bump Palm back into the list of the five largest smartphone manufacturers.

Palm was a part of the list until 2004, but was replaced by firms such as Panasonic and Sharp. Nokia currently leads the segment with 9.0 million devices shipped in the second quarter of this year, followed by Motorola with 1.7 million and RIM with 1.3 million. Panasonic and Sharp round out the list with 1.2 and 1.0 million units, respectively. According to Llamas, Palm is shipping just under a million Treo smartphones every quarter.