Palm Reading



That's a damn nice looking Palm, isn't it? Palm has needed to produce something like this for a while now... They've just taken their time getting there. The stats are all decent - 144Mhz 400Mhz XScale ARM processor, 64MB RAM, WiFi, 320x320 Color Screen, keyboard - it's a kick ass little device.

But where does Palm go from here? For a while now I've been saying they're doooomed because they've just produced nothing innovative in so long, but now it looks like they're coming out of their doldrums. The Tungsten C and Zire 71 are good starts. If they can get OS 6 out the door by Q3, that'll also help. But with the relentless pressure of PocketPCs on one end and Symbian phones on the other, I can't figure out how Palm is going to be anything more than a niche player in a very short time.

Remember the numbers: Palm says they've shipped over 28 million Palms to date. That's wonderful, but there are going to be nearly that many Symbian devices out there in the wild by the end of this year alone. In short order, it would seem that Palms are going to be ludicrously outnumbered and there's simply not going to be enough oxygen supply in the market left for Palm based apps. Palm has such a following however, especially in the U.S. that they may be able to avoid this somehow. It's hard to see how, but Palm has some serious devotees. People who use and love Palm want to upgrade their aging devices for another Palm so as not to lose their investment in time, effort and money on the platform. And remember that Sony is still a licensee with a lot invested in the OS as well and they will be a powerful ally as well in the coming months and years.

But still the numbers are out there and they're not good. It's debateable whether the PDA market itself will even be around for very long. How many of these devices sit unused in desk drawers or forgotten in their sync cradle? People don't want neat devices that sit around unused and they don't want to carry around 2 or 3 different gadgets with them everywhere.

Maybe that's where Palm is heading. If PDAs become a niche market, Palm will aim to become the biggest fish in that littler pond. You could say that's how it is now, since Palm gadgets are dwarfed by the billions of mobile phones that are out there now (most of which do rudimentary PIM sorts of things). But even if you just consider the PDA market, Palm is just catching up to fantastic devices like the open-platform Zaurus and many PocketPCs - which have become lighter and easier to use with every generation.

The other option for Palm is to continue on the path towards smartphones. There are many, many people in the U.S. who think the Ultimate Mobile Phone would be one with Palm as the OS. And to tell you the truth as a once Palm-devotee, I kinda like the idea myself. Palm's UI is still the most intuitive, its Desktop app the easiest, its syncing the best and its programming API the most straight forward. It would be great if I could get all this, and use the hundreds of dollars of applications I bought, on my new phone, wouldn't it?

The problem is that Palm doesn't seem to get how the telecoms work. At all. In my previous rant I talked about Multimedia Mobiles vs. smartphones and I said specifically that they could be mutually exclusive. I was talking specifically about Palm phones when I said that. You can check out all of Palm's products on this page. On that page you'll find the seven Palm phones that exist today and all could be classified as smartphones. None, however, are Multimedia phones. No Camera, MMS, J2ME (built-in or Brew or Mophun), no sound, no Bluetooth and not all have color screens.

The reason this is significant is directly noticeable by their prices. $299 to $499 WITH service activation!! Wow. Those are incredibly expensive phones! The reason is that the operators have almost no reason to help these manufacturers with the prices. Multimedia Mobiles crank up the ARPUs (average revenue per user) for the carriers, and thus they're willing to discount the phones heavily in order to get more of them out into the market. Vodafone in the UK is pushing upgrades to the Nokia 3650 for only 130 Euros or so, for example, and AT&T in the U.S. is selling it for $150. And that phone from a technical perspective has EVERYTHING.

Handspring has recently announced that they're going to launch a new Palm phone in the Autumn. I would assume that they will have learned a thing or two in the past couple years and will launch a Multimedia Mobile. However, by the Q3 of this year, Symbian will have at least 5 different handsets on the market and deals with every carrier. Handspring's efforts REALLY seem too late, they may have had an innovative product a year or so ago, but didn't capitalize on it and have missed the start of the real race.

It's almost painful to see sooo many misteps by so many companies centered around what is actually a good Platform

Personally I think the death-nell will come this year when an emulator for the Palm shows up. There is already a Palm emulator for the PocketPC and I don't see it taking too long before market forces get one on Symbian phones as well. Maybe even a portable environment where I can use my original ROM from my Vx and transfer it over. This is GOING to happen, I have no doubt, and suddenly all 17,000 Palm apps will have a new home.

If someone is reading this and thinks that somehow Palm has a chance, please let me know. I don't see much future in the platform. It's sad, but somehow seems inevitable. Maybe Sony will buy them, drop Symbian (which it has sorta threatened) and continue it's PDA innovations in the mobile phone market. This might be a viable scenario, but SonyEricsson isn't exactly going gangbusters at the moment, even with spectacular phones like the T68i and the P800... we'll see if they are on the upswing next quarter. Better to bet on Nokia's plan in that regard.

Anyways, nice new Palms. I want one out of pure techno-lust. Not sure what I would do with it, maybe use it to read the web and ebooks from my couch (I still own Micheal Crichtons Swarm in Palm eBook format that I haven't read yet). Hmmm...


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