NYT on PocketPCs vs. Palms

Here's an article in the NYT which points out what I've been ranting about for a while now, that Palm isn't keeping up with the competition and that PocketPCs have dropped in price and bulk yet increased in power and battery life negating any argument that the Palm may have had in the past in these areas:

... So if "What kind of palmtop should I get?" is the question, is "Get a Pocket PC" the answer?

From a pure features-per-dollar perspective, the answer is yes. In price, the closest color Palm model is the m130 ($250), but it's not nearly as powerful. It lacks the voice recorder, copious memory, headphone jack and high-resolution screen. Palm's handsome, compact Tungsten T is closer in usefulness. It comes with every feature you could dream of, including built-in Bluetooth for wireless synching, but it costs $500.

The point of all this is that it's no longer safe to generalize about the relative sizes, features and prices of Palms versus Pocket PC's. The deciding factor should be your preference in the operating system: Palm OS or Microsoft Pocket PC.

If you can't manage to spend a few minutes with each palmtop type to decide for yourself (in a store, for example), here's a summary:

The Palm OS is simple to navigate, clean to behold and effortless to use. To record "Lunch with Chris," for example, you just write it directly onto your calendar screen; to do the same on a Pocket PC, you have to open a dialog box and tap your way through some menus. As a Palm bonus, there's a library of about 10,000 add-on programs and games that run on the Palm - many times more than what you'll find for Pocket PC. And Palms sync with both Macs and PC's.

The Pocket PC operating system is vast and complex. Computer professionals adore its seething power and the way it effortlessly synchronizes with your copy of Microsoft Outlook whenever it's connected to the PC (you don't even have to push a button). Mere mortals, though, are likely to operate as they do in Windows: they'll master only the features they need to get their work done, uncomfortably aware that they're ignoring the rest.

Either way, the closing of the feature, price and size gaps between the Palm and Pocket PC worlds is welcome. In fact, there's only one disadvantage to all this progress. Now, when people at parties ask, "Which palmtop should I buy?," the answer is, "How much time do you have?"

So basically Palm is now relying only on the simplicity of its UI and OS, but that argument is quickly disappearing as people get used to the monstrousity that is the PcketPC. Additionally, I'd say that the Palm UI is quickly becoming a liability as the features of these gadgets start pushing more PC-like limits. The recent review of Sony's new gadget complains of the 20+ different icons and various tabs the user is presented with upon first starting the device up. Lots of features means lots of options and the Palm UI doesn't seem like it can scale that way.

But since American consumers are still somehow in love with the Palm, they'll still buy whatever crap they produce like the Zire. Palm Zire Was Best-Selling Holiday Handheld. That's a wild thought that out of all the PDAs out there, people went out and bought that small-screen 2 meg piece of junk. Amazing. I can't see that lasting for long though...

Palm's plan it seems, if you read the article, is to give first time buyers a taste of Palm with the cheap Zire, and then hope they upgrade to more powerful (and expensive) Palm devices later. Well, people are buying them, so the first part of the plan is working, but time will tell if Palm can succeed on the second part. I don't see it. They're going to go back to the store in a year (or less) see all these full-color PocketPCs with more features at the same the price of the equivalent Palm and go that way.

Or more likely, they're going to realize their mobile phone is doing everything their Zire did and more and realize they don't need a PDA. Now THAT makes sense. So the answer to the "Which palmtop should I buy?" question is really "A Nokia."


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