Palm today launched the Treo 500v, its first foray into the consumer smartphone market. The Palm Treo 500v will be sold in the UK and in seven other European territories exclusively through Vodafone. As with its predecessor, the Treo 750v, the 500v runs an adapted version of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile 6.0 operating system.

Importantly, anyone signing up for “a fairly standard” 12-month Vodafone mobile phone contract will pay nothing for the handset itself. Particulars of exactly what the subscription cost would be were not available at the press launch for the Treo 500v but will be disclosed imminently.

Vodafone already offers the Treo 750v – a handset described by a Vodafone spokeman as a “high-end business smartphone” for free on a £35-a-month phone contract. It’s likely that contracts for a Palm Treo 500v will start at less than this.

Vodafone also has an exclusive deal with BlackBerry maker RIM (Research In Motion) to sell its 8310 handset – another smartphone aimed at the consumer and ‘prosumer’ end of the market - at least until the end of October.

PC Advisor has already had its hands on the BlackBerry 8310 and can report that the two handsets look and feel broadly similar. The BlackBerry 8310 has a deeper, squarer screen than the Palm Treo 500v and has a 3Mp camera in comparison to the Treo’s 2Mp. However, both come in a lightweight pale grey plastic coating and have curved edges designed to appeal to the design-conscious consumer.

Both the Curve 8310 and the Treo 500v offer push email and Wi-Fi and have a removable memory card slot via which handset owners are expected to add videos and music tracks to play back. The Treo bests the Curve, however, in its inclusion of 3G connectivity rather than GPRS (general packet radio service).

Palm’s Treo 500v can also be bought in an ‘ice white’ colour, with Palm stating further colour variants for future handsets were a distinct possibility. Palm has already introduced alternative colour Treos in its quad-band business smartphone range.

Palm Treo 500v

Palm Treo 500v

Introducing the Treo 500v, Palm senior vice-president John Hartnett said the smartphone market is at an “an inflection point”. Hartnett used this term to describe the combination of a growing demand for mobile messaging and web access with the speed of internet access devices and the ability of manufacturers to hit a sweet spot on price that makes such handsets now appeal to consumers.

Hartnett says instant messaging, SMS, MMS and the ability to keep in touch with friends via social network sites such as MySpace and Facebook were becoming more and more important to the younger generation of phone users. This younger demographic – split roughly equally between male and female – not only wants to be able to take a photo on their handset, they also “want to post it direct to their MySpace page”, he believes.