HP has announced a new smartphone for business users, hoping in particular to appealing to IT administrators by offering remote software management from Bitfone.

The company said that the iPaq 500-series Voice Messenger would allow corporate IT managers to diagnose and repair a smartphone far from the office, send a software upgrade or even wipe all the data off a lost or stolen smartphone.

In another bid for corporate users, the phone uses built-in 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi to support VoIP telephony, allowing employees to use it as a node on their office phone network while they're in the building.

For users, the iPaq 500 supports mobile email like RIM's BlackBerry and Palm's Treo. But this is a voice-first, data-second platform, offering a 12-button phone keypad instead of the full alphabet keyboard. Users can operate most of its features with voice commands instead of typed words, asking the iPaq to read their email aloud, or to take dictation and send an email response.

"Our target customers are business users at enterprise or small and medium businesses. We are not aspiring to be one of those free phones being given away by carriers," said Niraj Gandhi, a product marketing manager at HP.

"Mobilising email is the killer app where all the businesses and especially enterprise users are going to work. But even there, they have preferences - not everyone wants to carry the big device with a full QWERTY keyboard during the evening, though they'll put up with it through the day," Gandhi said.

While users will compare the new smartphone to products from RIM and Palm, HP will use the iPaq 500 to gain a leg up against Dell in the enterprise space, according to one analyst.

"Many enterprises like the desktops, notebooks, servers and monitors to have the same brand name. This launch gives HP an extra bullet in its gun as it tries to win profitable enterprise deals against Dell and Lenovo," said Samir Bhavnani, research director at Current Analysis.

"In general, the PC guys - Dell, HP, Lenovo and Toshiba - have lagged the market when it comes to device strategy around smartphones. But HP has done a good job over the past two years as relates to product design."

HP will launch the iPaq 500 series smartphones in April or May, depending on Microsoft's timing in releasing its new Windows Mobile 6.0 OS. HP plans to charge US$299 to $349 for an unlocked version of the phone, and will announce deals with individual carriers after the initial launch.