Monday, July 14, 2008

Palm Clinging to Life with the Treo 800w?


The classic "we used to be giants" story. Once upon a time, Palm was the undisputed king in the mobile computing market, in both hardware and software.

They showed the world that touch screen handhelds were not limited to science fiction, and enjoyed their status despite the often more powerful alternatives that hit the market.
That was all before they made some rather, well, nearly fatal business moves in the last few years.

The first big mistake, in my opinion, was their lack of OS development.
After no major advances were made in the OS department, people started looking elsewhere- When the the color Palm IIIc came out, sporting its 8-bit palatte of 256 colors and simple beep-tone generated alarms, Windows Mobile already had high-end multimedia and digital music features, supported full 16-bit (32k+) colors, could multi-task and gave developers to power to create high end applications like VoIP.

When Palm realized they were falling behind, they desperately tried to keep the OS and their hardware caught up, although they always seemed to be just one step behind.
Nevertheless, fearless fanboys stood by them, hoping the next Palm announcement would place them on top once again.

Then there was the Palm Folio. Possibly the biggest disappointment in the history of mobile computing. The fanboys started to dissipate, and Palm was quickly loosing their status.

However, even before they dropped the Folio, Palm started embracing Windows Mobile, a move that shocked many fans and non-fans alike. Oh the irony!
Little known fact: Many of the behaviors considered odd of Windows Mobile are because MS made their interface less desktop-like and more simplistic, in an effort to mimic the success of the non-multitasking Palm OS. Windows CE (which looked remarkably similar to Windows 95/98) was not received as well as they had hoped. Later becoming Pocket PC and finally changing names to Windows Mobile, the lack of taskbar and misunderstood X button are still in use today because of the influence Palm had on the market.

The move led many to thinking-
Does this mark the end of Palm? Are they now to fall back and join the ranks of HTC and other manufacturers who simply develop hardware and license an OS from Microsoft? With so many manufacturers who sell Windows Mobile (Samsung, Motorola, HP, etc), will that even be enough to save them?

Just when we thought Palm was going to disappear, they released the Palm OS Centro. The Centro was geared at a younger crowd, with fun colors and a slick new design (especially when compared to the bland older, bulkier Treos), and a cheap $99 price tag.

At that price, you could buy a smartphone for about the same price as a middle class feature phone.
The Centro became wildly popular with the young crowd, thus breathing at least a bit of new life into an otherwise dying platform. With the release of the iPhone, however, there was only so much of the younger demographic to share.
Sure, Palm isn't down for the count yet, but the Centro alone probably wouldn't be enough to keep them going.

Enter the Treo 800w.
The Treo 800w is designed as a high-end smartphone device, trying to gear towards power-users / corporate business.
They packed just about as many new features as they possibly could while still trying to look more like the Centro in style than the older brick-shaped Treos.

Its got Windows Mobile 6.1, WiFi, GPS, EVDO Rev. A (like the Centro, it's released as CDMA on Sprint first), 128 Mb of Ram, and some special UI customizations to make the whole thing run all shiny.

I'll be honest, I haven't been the biggest fan of Palm's Treo line, but this is the first of their devices that interests me personally. I'm still not a fan of always-there-Qwerty devices with tiny keys, but if I had to get one this would be my choice.

The question is, will this be enough to save Palm?
My opinion is that hardware developers are going to have some good times soon- Open Source systems such as Symbian, Android, and LinuxMobile are all the talk now, and any manufacturer can release any number of devices with their choice of these platforms royalty free. If Palm can stay afloat long enough for this new wave of device to become a reality, then perhaps they can survive as a hardware manufacturer alone.

I'm curious to hear what others think...