Hong Kong-based Group Sense Ltd (GSL) has unveiled the world's smallest mobile phone running the popular Palm operating system. It was designed locally and will sell only in Asia. Called the Xplore G18, it is a full-featured GSM/GPRS dual-band mobile phone running Palm version 4.1.2. It has e-mail and web-browsing functions, a colour liquid-crystal display touch screen and a digital camera embedded for multimedia messaging. Hong Kong mobile operator CSL is expected to sell the smartphone for about HK$3,600. Already, comparisons are being made between the 130-gram G18 and Handspring's Treo 600, which received much acclaim for its design. The Treo 600 is about 30 per cent smaller than Handspring's previous combination phone PDA, the Treo 270. According to a PalmSource official, the Treo 600 is larger and heavier than the 130-gram GSL device. Details on the actual size and weight of the Treo 600, due for release in autumn, were not available from Handspring's website. 'I think the G18 will appeal to the mainstream market more because it is smaller and lighter. The screen is bigger, and the price is lower than what the Treo 600 will probably sell for when it becomes available here,' said a PalmSource official. PalmSource makes the Palm operating system, which is used in 57 per cent of all handhelds worldwide. In December, PalmSource signed licensing agreements with Legend and GSL to target the mainland market. According to International Data Corp (IDC), the mainland was the second-largest handheld market in the world in terms of unit shipments last year. It accounts for 20 per cent of global unit shipments and 71 per cent of those to the Asia-Pacific region. PalmSource president and chief executive David Nagel said: 'GSL's Xplore G18 marks an important milestone in the innovation and distribution of Palm-powered mobile devices in the China market.' The company's Asia-Pacific director of licensing, Dominic Tu, said: 'That GSL was able to turn out a smartphone just six months after the licensing is impressive.' Other PalmSource licensees include Acer, AlphaSmart, Fossil, Garmin, Handera, Handspring, Intel, Kyocera, Motorola, Samsung, Sony, Symbol and Texas Instruments. GSL's G18 will compete with other smartphones, including the Sony-Ericsson P800, which runs on the Symbian operating system, and Synergy's QTek, which runs Microsoft Smartphone 2002 software. The G18 will also compete, indirectly, in the smart handheld category, which includes the Windows-based xDA, a PDA phone from British operator O2, and two others running Palm software - the Handspring Treo 270 and Palm's Tungsten W. GSL, which makes the popular electronic Chinese-English dictionary Instant-Dict, is the third-largest maker of handheld computers in Greater China. IDC analyst Manny Lopez said that, while the market for smartphones and smart handhelds in Hong Kong had been very niche, GSL's device had a broader appeal because it was smaller and carried the more popular Palm software. 'Given the size and form factor, the new G18 is directly targeted to the voice-centric user and not so much to data-centric user, as other converged devices such as Tungsten W and XDA are. And because of this the device stands a good chance of breaking into the mainstream market,' he said. 'GSL has typically been known for its low-priced proprietary PDAs. However, with the release of the G18, the new product goes a long way to push GSL as a leading smartphone manufacture in the China market. 'Pricing is more affordable to the mainstream and GSL's Chinese-English dictionary application is very popular in Greater China. This product could see mainstream adoption.' The Treo 600 will sell for about US$500 in the United States. GSL chairman Samson Tam Wai-ho said his company chose Palm because the modular architecture of the Palm OS allowed GSL to create different products for China. He said the Palm OS had an edge because of its large network of hardware, software and application developers. The Xplore G18 will be available in traditional and simplified Chinese, and English.