Palm: Never Say Never


We got a SonyEricsson P900 in the office recently and some of my coworkers were a bit surprised at my lack of excitement over it. I mean, it's Symbian, right? Yeah, true, but it's UIQ and it's more PDA than phone. I said if I wanted PDA-type functionality I'd go with Palm over UIQ any day of the week.

Well, Ana just started English classes at City College and despite the fact that she has SlovoEd's Spanish-English dictionary on her Nokia 3650, she really wanted the 100,000 word Collins dictionary that was on her Palm V from years ago. (It's the app I gave her illegally on the first day we met to impress her and help us talk back before I knew any Spanish - I eventually paid for her copy too). Urgh, I said, just use your cool-ass smart phone! But you know, Ana just likes Palm's UI much better and she likes using the little pen. If I never have to write in Graffiti again in my life, it'll be too late, but she likes it.

The fact is that *many* people like it. So because her Palm was having problems and the charger was European anyways, I decided to just get her a new Palm Zire 21, throw Collins on it and she'd be happy. That was last week. Then Palm launched the super-nice color Palm Zire 31 today, so I got that one too. I'm going to return the first one, still two Palms in as many weeks? I'm sure if you looked in the various "Palm is doomed" and "Palm is totally doomed" posts I've written in the past year, you'll see me swear that I'll never buy another Palm again. Well... never say never, right?

The fact is that PalmOS based devices are just nice. Even if they're losing market share to mobile handsets, they still have the nicest mobile UI that exists. And the famous Palm sync is still as good as ever, and the Palm Desktop has just kept on improving as well - here's a screenshot of the latest. It's just so well done!

I've said it before, but I just can't understand why Nokia doesn't have an app with similar functionality for its Series 60 phones. Or why some third party hasn't made one yet - or maybe even an adapter for Palm-to-S60 switchers. I *wish* I could use an app that was so well written to manage my calendar, contacts, memos, etc. and I wish that installing a new app on my phone (and backup) was as simple as it is on a Palm. And application transfer between devices? No IMEI number needed, I just installed the Collins PRC to Ana's new Palm and it worked with no problems. Most Series 60 apps are tied to the exact phone they're installed on, which means upgrading is painful and costly. Trust me, I just played this game with the Nokia 6600/7610 and it wasn't fun.

Anyways, I have to say that I'm glad to see PalmOne launching great devices like the Zire 31 - they've sold 3+ million Zires already and I'm sure that this one is going to be a huge hit too. It really is quite a lot of PDA for the money. I mean, there was definitely a time when all innovation stopped at what was Palm, so you've got to give credit where credit is due: this is a great new PDA device with a great price. Wouldn't it be nice if they tried the same thing with the Treos? Palm's plan of pushing OS 5 (Garnet) to smart phones might work if it was cheap enough. Seriously, if they can make money on $150 PDA, they could add another $50 bill of goods for the CDMA/GSM chipsets and do the same for smart phones, right? I mean, I love my S60 phone, but in my heart of hearts really do lust after the Treo 600.

I still think the long term results are this: Sony will eventually buy PalmSource outright, drop Symbian and produce smart phones based on that OS competing with SonyEricsson in the smart phone market. This doesn't make sense for Sony to do it, but I bet you they will and target different geographic regions doing it - there are already many Sony phones you can't get in the West. God knows what PalmOne will do - the market for PDAs is drying up so fast, even with a big hit they're going to have a tough time competing. I mean, Nokia stock is getting hammered and their future questioned - and *they* sold 44.7 million phones in the first 3 months of the year alone. (All of them costing a hell of a lot more than the Zire 31, believe me). I mean, come on! If PalmOne wants to stay relevant, they need to start cranking out these types of shipments.

PalmOne, in the end, may end up being the Apple of the handset market: A profitable company but with a very, very small share of the handheld market. That is of course if Apple doesn't produce its own PDA-like device based on the iPod itself.



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