Palm has stopped innovating. It is sad, but true. I saw a patient today who had an impressive device sitting on the countertop. It was the HTC S710 telephone. If you haven't seen it, you should! It reminded me of a thing called innovation that was once synonymous with Palm.
I must say that I was impressed with the form factor of the HTC S710 model. The sliding keyboard is spectacular. I am reminded of a time 5 years ago when Palm introduced the Palm Tungsten T. The slide is a gentle spacesaver that is both neat and practical.
If I did not already have a relatively decent telephone -nonsmartphone- I would definitely consider purchasing the HTC S710. However, there was a lot to learn from the product and I got to thinking about what Palm could do to get back on track. This is obviously a fanboy article, but what can I say, I love Palm and I really don't want to see them fail.
Although the HTC S710 model is a thing for sore eyes, I noted a few things about the device, as I was allowed to use it for a few minutes:
1. It is a SmartPhone with excellent features, including a microSD slot (something the iPhone lacks).
2. The keyboard slider is practical. First, I have stubby fingers. No, I'm not fat, cherubic or plump, but my fingers are a little longer and wider than the average Treo-user. Thus, I cannot hit the keyboards in a manner that is time saving on the Treo. On the HTC, the keyboard is near perfect. The keys are spaced appropriately and the tactile feedback is good. No, not as good as a regular keyboard, but not as "click-happy" as the Treo, which feels as though you're pressing a switch with each 'keystroke.' However, I did not like the 'space' button which was awkwardly placed at the side. I kept reaching for a nonexistent 'space' bar.
3. I viewed the picture viewer and the 2 megapixel camera and I must say I was very impressed with the quality. The sound quality was equally impressive.
4. The downsides are a little obvious. First it's running the clunky and slow Windows Mobile. Although it's updated from WindowsCE, it is not an intuitive ride at all. It does have 'bindings' to Office, but even so, it doesn't feel like an extension of Office. Nevertheless, being able to sync up to Office is a plus. I did not get the opportunity to port and open documents, so I cannot discuss this aspect of the phone.
5. The obvious problem again resides in software. I am still "hooked" on the Palm experience and most of my software is not portable to the Windows Mobile Platform, although 75% of the mission critical data is. That being said, I would have loved to have seen this thing running the Palm OS.
So what does this have to do with Palm Computing?
Well, notice that I have essentially steered away from the iPhone hysteria since January when the device was announced. There is nothing to add to the madness that has gone on since the speech and the release -- however, I have been floored recently by two incredible pieces of software for the iphone ----gOffice and Telekinesis (Google them and see). Obviously, with news out today that the iPhone may begin adding full OS X supported apps, this is obviously a work in progress that will see numerous software updates along the way. But I digress........
The future is touch screen, something that Palm has had cornered for years. The future is also design and efficacy. Something that Palm has now lost. The analyst meeting of two years ago reflected this, when the CEO stated that the company would concentrate on Smartphones. And of course, who can forget the term used for the $500.00 non rebate Lifedrive -- an Experiment!
Additionally, looking at the Treos, I have not really noticed any great leaps in even the hardware that sets this device apart from its earlier predecessors. The 600 looks eerily close to the 650 etc. Perhaps the 680, with its dab of color is a little different, but typing on the device feels the same.
I would have to say that Palm's insistence on just doing Smartphones created a rift within the Palm user community. Those of us who did not want a smartphone were left in the dark. I was squarely based on the side of those not wanting an all-in-one device. I have since come around, since the battery life issues are now slowly going away. But one reason for my not purchasing a Treo was simple: Screensize !!! How could I give up the incredible visual real estate of the Lifedrive to go back to a small screen on a Treo? And then there was the memory problem. Up to the Treo 650, the company insisted on giving just 32mb onboard Ram. This has since increased with the introduction of NVFS. But it is still too small for what we want our Smartphones to do today. In my case, textbooks and memory intensive Data programs such as Mobisystems Database or Spreadsheet programs. Load a picture or video and look for a soft reset in your future endeavours.
What the iPhone and the HTC products show, is that there is further room for tweaking. Palm is already ahead of the game. If they can just put it all together with their new lineup - including a killer OS - this could be innovation at its best.
Perhaps something has been overlooked in this entire discussion. It is not just about innovation. It is about competition. I believe that the Tungsten T was designed as a direct result of Sony's incredible innovation. Who can forget the Clie's? These were works of art. Palm's OS continued to pose problems for the device at times, but I was always stunned when I saw one. Built in software management, music players etc. One physician that I know kept his entire life on one of these things. Let's not forget about Handspring. It was the competition that produced the Tungsten T. With no appreciable competition in the handheld space, innovation died!
Now, with the advent of new players, perhaps Palm could team up with Apple and Google and make a product that would introduce standards. For example, let's face it, PDF documents are here to stay. No matter how many new "standards" try to come and take its place (ie. Repligo). Apple has recognized this and supports PDF NATIVELY. Even the iPhone can read PDF documents. So why has it taken so long for Palm to do this natively? They have depended upon third party developers to do this. This should be something already embeded in the OS. The same holds true for .doc files. This should be inherent in hardware. Yes, I know, there are different types of .doc files, commensurate with each iteration of Microsoft's Office, but it would be a start. We would save battery life.
Innovation! That has been Palm's credo from its inception. Even if the Foleo doesn't deliver upon its promise, we are still looking at a company trying to innovate. Even if I became angry at the $500 experiment, they were still trying. However, the company has apparently stopped innovating. It is now time for this company to step forward and create a truly brilliant device.
Give us a sliding keyboard and I will purchase a smartphone (with a new OS of course).
Give us a stable operating system; an elegant and attractive formfactor (something small is better) and I will shout from the hills.
I have not lost hope, even though I have grown impatient. I am happy to see a few of Apple's people joining Palm. This could spell a period of true innovation. We will have to wait and see.
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