New Phones


In the past week both the new Handspring Treo 600 and the Nokia 6600 were announced. I thought it was significant because it represents efforts by the two companies to address the needs of the mobile business market with a subdued yet highly functional phones and have very similar names as well.

First let me say that despite the excitement about the Treo, it's not going to save Palm from being a niche player. It's not because of any technical merit, it's because of the deals and the understanding of the market that Nokia has to its advantage. I'm not even going to talk about all the Symbian phones out there, just the Series 60 models. They are coming out in force now and by the millions. Whether they are technically superior (they are) or not, the S60 phones are going to drown Palm out of the market in every possible way.

That said, I think the new Treo is cool as hell. It lacks Bluetooth of course, but hey, it's got an SD slot, so you can throw a Bluetooth card in there. It's got a decent processor, a camera, and more. I only have to assume it's got the Multimedia Mobile prereqs like J2ME support and MMS as well. I can't imagine the carriers even looking at it without them. So in all, it really seems like a great little phone.

And I think Palm as an OS is great. But I think that unlike Microsoft ("Mobile Windows"), it doesn't seem that PalmSource has gotten the idea yet that the future is in the phones. Thus they haven't made the necessary tweaks to the UI necessary to operate seamlessly one handed. For example, why haven't the menus moved to being accessible via two quick keys as is standard now? I often wonder how "hard coded" much of the Palm OS is because it just doesn't seem very flexible. It was designed right the first time, which is nice, but now it needs to evolve and it doesn't seem to be. It's just the same UI with a variety of different buttons. But still. The OS is just a *great* portable OS that does so much. And I'm not just talking about the UI, the apps or the API. I'm talking about the imporant things that Nokia just can't seem to get right - the desktop synching and backup and ease of use. You get a Palm and there's not much to fight with becuase it *just works*.

I had a conversation with my friend Chris the other day who was saying that the reason he likes his Kyocera is because it syncs up with laptop and is a phone first, PDA second. I told him that this is the argument for smartphones! But he argued, "yeah, but my phone is a Palm" and he expounded on the synching, battery life, etc.

So the Palm is definitely still a great mobile OS and I think with tweaks it'll continue to be relevant. The new Treo shows that with the right apps it still has a lot of life in the UI. But tell me, how is Palm going to compete with Nokia in the marketplace? It just doesn't look good. The Treo is Handspring's/Palm's only offering for now. It's a take it or leave it proposition. Even if they start pumping out a million variations of the same phone (low-end and high-end), they've got to compete with Nokia who've got at least a year head start on them. Nokias are also being pushed at every market niche from teens to adults and being subsidized by the carriers because of their ARPU boosting potential.

Considering that Handspring only sold less than 200,000 first generation Treos in over a year (Nokia probably sold that many 3650s yesterday) you have to wonder how much of a leap in learning they could've made in that time and whether it's realistic to think that they now have the connections and know-how to produce 10s of millions of these phones. Which they will need to do in order to compete. You can see my cause for doubt.

And that brings us to us the developers. If you're targeting your efforts on a platform, you have to think about how many customers you might have. I think the analogy to Apple might be a good comparision. Apple only controls a small percentage of the PC market, however those people *spend money* like crazy. Maybe it's the same for Palm - they'll have a niche, but within that niche, they'll have their core of hard-core users who'll continue to support the platform and buy software at inflated prices. So you can develop for the Series60's multiple millions and charge $5 apiece for your goods, or go for the Palms and charge more and hope that Palm finds a way of competing and opens up your market to more people. The problem is that we've already seen a high-profile Palm-based company like Aportis go down in flames, so I have serious doubts about that following in that path.

The 6600 by the way is sweet and just about everyone wants it *now*. I think it'll have a big impact, but also a big price at first because of it's target market - look at the cost of the 7250s right now. Nokia, in my mind, needs to work on their pitch to corporations. They need to make the 6600 the model that people are targeting for their mobile development needs. PocketPC is already there and .Net Compact is starting to really get a foothold. Palm has beein the corporate market for a while, but their lack of features and central control has really damaged it and they've been losing corporate buyers every quarter as a result.

The Nokia 6600 would be a perfect platform for most big companies looking to roll out mobile apps. Easy to use, connected, infinitely expandable, and more. But Nokia has to drive that. Better integration with corporate systems (i.e. Outlook), security, rapid development tools, etc.


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