Handspring, a maker of Palm-based communicators, is taking a crack at the mainland hand-held market under a new manufacturing and branding deal with CEC Telecom in China. The United States company will sell its GPRS-enabled (general packet radio services) mobile-phone personal digital assistant (PDA) combination, the Treo 270, in China with CEC Telecom at a price many would consider prohibitive in the mainland. Handspring marketing vice-president Joseph Sipher said its partnership with CEC Telecom was important because the brand was relatively new in China. The new metallic-silver Treo will be sold in the mainland as the CECT Treo 270, probably at a higher price than in Hong Kong due to China's 17 per cent import tax. The Treo 270, introduced in July, is selling for HK$5,380 here. Under the deal, CEC Telecom will be responsible for final assembly and manufacturing. The Treo 270 model sold outside of China is made in Mexico. Taiwan-based information technology distributor GrandTech will be responsible for marketing the product in China. The Treo will come with a CJKOS (Chinese-Japanese-Korea operating system) overlay and HanWan handwriting input software at no additional cost. The product will include a software package of Palm OS applications. Handspring switched from making PDAs to wireless handsets with PDA features earlier this year, believing that the wireless market was moving towards a product with cell phone and data capabilities. However, Gartner handset analyst Ann Liang said the market for a combined PDA mobile-phone product was still very small in the Asia-Pacific. 'It is very niche and the numbers are very small. We are not expecting volume in that market in the short-term,' Ms Liang said. According to Gartner's third- quarter report, the global hand-held market has contracted 2 per cent compared to the same period last year. Globally, 2.55 million PDAs were shipped in the third quarter, down from 2.62 million for the same period last year. In Chinese-language markets, devices running proprietary operating systems manufactured by local computer-makers are popular. The devices produced by mainland computer-makers such as Minren, GroupSense and Hi-Tech Wealth do not have the sophisticated functions found on the Palm or Microsoft Pocket PC operating systems, International Data Corp (IDC) analyst Kitty Fok said. However, the devices are niche-oriented and tied to services from carriers; examples are a device that monitors the stock market and an e-mail only device. Such sales strategies have proven more successful than retailing at stores, Ms Fok said. According to IDC, the total pen-based hand-held computer market in the Asia-Pacific this year is 2.6 million units compared to 2.5 million last year. Proprietary systems accounted for 1.7 million devices, more than half of all hand-helds sold in the region this year. The trend is expected to continue, IDC said. In 2006, 6.8 million pen-based hand-held computers are expected to be shipped to the Asia-Pacific. 'We are targeting people who do not want to carry two devices - a mobile phone and a PDA - separately. We think there is definitely a market at the high-end in China,' Mr Sipher said. 'The Motorola 388 series of products, for example, sells about 40,000 to 50,000 units a month. It is a phone with some PDA functions that is proprietary to Motorola. It has no colour screen and no big developer base. 'Then you have the CECT Treo 270 which is colour on the Palm operating system and does both data and voice well . . . we aren't looking for a big percentage of the market.'