Handspring Bakes A Phone Into A Handheld

By eweek  |  Posted 2001-10-15

Call it the Silicon Valley Army knife.

Handsprings new line of sleek mobile communicators, called Treo, combines a wireless phone, a handheld organizer and a wireless data device that provides on-the-move e-mail and Web browsing. Treo is scheduled to launch this week.

"Its been a customer request for a long, long time," said Joe Sipher, Handsprings vice president of product marketing. "People say, I dont want to carry multiple devices."

So far, attempts to meld a phone with a handheld computer have met with very disappointing sales.

But with Treo, Handspring believes it has cracked the code on integrated communications devices. One of the most important differences is the form factor: Previous devices that have provided both voice and data functions failed because they were too bulky and not very well integrated, Sipher said. Indeed, he acknowledged, Handsprings own offering in this area - the VisorPhone plug-in global system for mobile communication (GSM) module that was released last year -- has not fared as well as the company had hoped because of those same reasons.

Treo, weighing 5.4 ounces and measuring 4.3 inches tall by 2.7 inches wide - and just 0.7 inch thick - passes the "shirt pocket test."

"We really needed this to be a pocketable device," Sipher said.

The Treo, which runs Palms operating system (OS), supports GSM wireless networks and will be upgradable to general packet radio service when such services become commercially available. The devices rechargeable battery provides two and a half hours of talk time, and 60 hours of standby time.

Unlike Handsprings Visor handhelds, however, the Treo will not include the Springboard expansion slot, which has been a Handspring hallmark since it rolled out its first Palm-based units in 1999.

The first product in the Treo family, the monochrome-screen Treo 180, is slated to be available in early 2002 for $399 with the purchase of a voice service plan from Cingular Wireless or VoiceStream Wireless, Handsprings carrier partners. Without the service plan, the Treo 180 will cost $549. In mid-2002, Handspring plans to ship a color-screen model, the Treo 270, which will cost $599 with the purchase of a voice service plan.

The Treo 180 will be available in two models. The 180k includes a miniature qwerty keyboard, which resembles the thumb-size keyboard on Research In Motions BlackBerry messaging devices. Handspring will also offer the Treo 180g, which instead of a keyboard provides the familiar Palm Graffiti handwriting recognition area.

Available in only one color, steel blue, the Treo 180 will be outfitted with 16 megabytes of memory. The device runs Palm OS 3.5, and includes Blazer, Handsprings mini Web browser, as well as a Short Message Service application and a Post Office Protocol 3 e-mail client.

Handsprings target customers for the Treo - which will be sold from the companys Web site and through retail channels - are business professionals who carry around multiple gadgets.

"The low-hanging fruit will be the 13 million people who have both a Palm OS organizer and a cell phone," Sipher said.

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