Palm Inc. yesterday unveiled a new wireless device with Microsoft software and a high-speed Internet connection from Verizon Wireless, an alliance of onetime rivals intended to further blur the distinction between a mobile phone and a laptop computer.
The phone, which does not yet have a name, won't be available until early next year but is already being described as the beginning of a revolution for the mobile computing industry, which has been in search of devices and applications that are faster, smaller and easier to use.
The announcement marks a major turn for Palm and Microsoft Corp., which had been longtime rivals in the handheld computing market. Palm's new device -- the first of its kind without the original Palm operating system introduced in 1996 -- will come equipped with a mobile version of Microsoft's software, which is recognized by the millions of people who use Microsoft Windows on personal computers.
That familiarity is what will help expand the universe of people who will use high-end mobile phones to work outside the office, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates said yesterday. With Verizon's high-speed connection, it will become both faster and easier to read e-mail attachments, stream Internet radio and surf the Web while on the go, company executives told an audience at the CTIA Wireless IT & Entertainment trade show in San Francisco.
"We want to make the customer feel like, 'Hey, I've got [Microsoft] Outlook in my pocket,' " said Edward T. Colligan, president and chief executive of Palm. Palm will continue to support products that run PalmSource Inc. software, including the popular Treo smartphone. Executives from Microsoft and Palm said they will work together to develop additional software applications that will, in turn, challenge competitors such as Research In Motion Ltd., maker of the BlackBerry.
Palm has said that it plans to put more emphasis on smartphones, which are quickly stealing market share from the personal digital assistant, or PDA.
"The PDA is going the way of the laptop" and even trying to supplant it, said Roger Entner, a wireless analyst for research firm Ovum.
Surfing the Internet and sending instant messages over wireless phones can be clunky and slow, but companies are designing easier-to-use hardware and software, Entner said.
"Microsoft is starting to get it right with mobile," he said.
That means the rest of the field will have to work to catch up to Palm, Microsoft and Verizon Wireless, which plan to pool resources to market the new device. Verizon Wireless, for example, will distribute the phones in its 1,900 retail stores nationally. The device will be available only on Verizon Wireless's network until the middle of next year, when it is expected to launch on other carriers' networks.
"Everyone knew the steamroller was coming, and now it's staring them in the face," Entner said.
Research In Motion, the Canadian company that pioneered and popularized wireless e-mail through its BlackBerry devices, has been struggling against stiffer competition with rival e-mail products, notably smartphones.
For PalmSource, the former sister company of Palm, yesterday's announcement means it will be sharing its largest customer with Microsoft.
The Treo smartphone still has a loyal base of customers, said PalmSource spokeswoman Maureen O'Connell. That company was originally part of Palm but spun off in 2003. Earlier this month, a Japanese company named Access Co. announced plans to buy PalmSource.
Treos run PalmSource software, but an upcoming model will operate on Microsoft software.