Palm has finally announced it will offer push email to its smartphones, years after promising such a service in order to compete with RIM's Blackberry.

Available next week, The Treo 680 and Treo 700p Smartphones will update Palm's VersaMail to include Microsoft Direct Push technology. Although the push capability was promised via the next Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync Update, the push component of ActiveSync was delayed.

Prior to the availability of Direct Push, a device had to remain on and ready to receive a packet from the server, with the server essentially asking whether the user was available to receive an email. The necessity of always waiting for a ping reduces battery life.

Scheduled email delivery also uses power by forcing the system to check for emails even when no new messages have arrived at the server. In contrast, push technology wakes the device up with the arrival of the email.

As far as real time goes, however, some industry analysts such as Ken Dulaney, senior mobile analyst at Gartner, claim if a corporate user can get an email within 15 minutes of it being sent, the difference between real push and simulated push is negligible. "Once email uses a more or less a delivery-activated system as opposed to a periodic check, RIM will no longer have a major advantage," Dulaney said. Those in the financial services industry might disagree with that assessment.

Direct Push adds other benefits as well. Push as a technology gives the server a remote, control channel. With push, IT can implement a theft loss-protection strategy to delete data or add password policy enforcement over the air.

In addition, cellular companies typically charge more for a BlackBerry data service to allow push email, so Palm devices with an equivalent feature will have a service price advantage.

Joe Fabris, director of wireless solutions for Palm, said if you are managing fifty or fewer Treos, however, there probably is no need for additional management software. But if you are managing 500 or 5,000 devices, you will need additional software to manage the blacklisting of non-approved software, software maintenance and upgrades, and the ability to turn off components such as a built-in camera.

These services are integrated into the native email software from Rim with the BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server) middleware or Good Mobile Messaging. Direct Push will be available as a free download for VersaMail from today.