Sunday, April 5, 2009

Can Palm make a comeback?

They already have.

Palm used to rock. The OS was the Firefox of its day, with developers producing a huge amount of third party apps. It lost ground to the Blackberry and eventually the iPhone, and its lackluster product offerings have seen the company fading into the distance. Palm was always business focused, and I think they should have stayed that way. By coming out with the Centro, they seem to be impeding on Apple's turf. No contest. I think that Blackberry edged out the Treo because it offered built-in push email, a rich Web browsing experience and real innovation in each new model. Those are points of focus where Palm has fallen down in my view. As a user, I remember my disappointment when Palm could no longer offer Java to enhance the browsing experience. That was the coup de gras that made me focus on RIM.

I was a Palm loyalist for years, but after Blackberry introduced its touchscreen model, I knew it would be time to jump ship. It was the single advantage that Palm had over them. As Google spreads its influence and begins its cloud IT services catering to the enterprise, it is interesting to note that Blackberry and iPhone are supported by Google Apps... and Palm OS is not. Google has obviously gambled against the future of Palm.

The Palm Treo 650 was a terrific device. Unfortunately, the 700p and 755p were disappointments in many ways, with a buggy OS and few innovative features. In fact, the 755p was phased out by Verizon in a matter of months after its release. For me, Palm's biggest lacking was not in the area of hardware and performance, but integration with newer technologies that focused on other platforms like Windows Mobile, Blackberry and others. It was like the Mac OS 9x of handhelds; terrific device, but it couldn't make friends with others.

Don't count Palm out

Enter the Palm Pre, Palm's last chance to make a comeback. At first I was skeptical until I saw the pictures. My guess is that it will succeed. Treo loyalists have always loved the QWERTY keyboard, and this phone offers that plus full size screen real estate a la iPhone and Storm. While it is a less integrative approach than its touchscreen competitors, it does seem quite versatile. This may be the product that will keep suffering Treo users happy before they are forced to migrate to other companies.

HVGA touchscreen, physical QWERTY keyboard, a new OS called "Palm webOS", integrated wifi (finally), built-in GPS, a much better camera with flash and greater multimedia abilities and a cool form factor make this Palm a totally different animal.

What's cool here is how Palm makes a point of stating up front that it plays nice with Outlook, Google and Facebook. Palm is underscoring integration, one of the things that was most lacking in recent years.

I'm not a fan of things that move, but the sliding keyboard is a thing of utility for those who don't like virtual keyboards. I had an awful experience with my sliding Palm Tungsten T, which became a nuisance after a day or two. As a side note, that seemed to be the most poorly thought out Palm to date. There, I got that off my chest.

I was skeptical about Blackberry's virtual keyboard. That is, until I tried it. Not only was the feedback vibration a thing of true brilliance, but horizontal keyboard display meant roomier typing and most importantly, a stable grip in your hands. It stands to reason that the Pre has been in development for some time, but it is too bad that they didn't adopt a horizontal virtual keyboard. It's time to start reverse engineering for the Post Pre. Like the iPhone and Storm, the Pre is able to switch views to the horizontal, based on the physical angle of the phone. But this may strike you as a bit odd when you see the qwerty Keyboard at a 90 degree angle.

But that notwithstanding, finally Palm has deployed a product worthy of capturing the imagination of its dwindling loyalists, and may even make a comeback into the mainstream. One of the considerations we all have to make when we buy a new handheld is the cost and integration of legacy applications. Do I really want to take my Chapura Turbo Passwords and go through the hassle of importing all of the data into a new application? Same goes for my Checklist app and many others. This "cost of migration" is one more reason why Palm People may remain Palmers, and why we may not have seen the last of Palm. This, incidentally, is why I'm moving much of my own operations into the Cloud. Dependence on local apps in such a fast paced environment has me wasting a lot of time trying to find syncs and ways to consolidate stuff.

One notable mention about the new Palm OS's interface. Windows can be reduced so that you can easily move from one window to the next using the touchscreen. Brilliant. If you don't understand my quick attempt at explaining this, check out the demos on the Palm Pre website. What becomes clear is that unlike the pre PRE OS, this new device can multitask applications so you can swiftly jump back and forth to make plans, coordinate, cross check data, etc. This is another lacking feature of the Palm OS 5 that slowed down my workflow and forced me into a box. Palm is getting with the times. If the demos of the Pre are any indication, a lot of thought went into this new system, and we can expect that it will come with bundled SyncML capabilities, for a myriad of communication applications. Form factor has never meant much to me, but the new Pre looks as slick as any Apply product. Clearly, Palm is going after the business user iPhoners. This battle of the handhelds is going to be hand-to-hand combat.

Will the new OS be backwards compatible? This remains to be seen. Palm must have been thinking about its loyalty user base so I have to conclude that they kept this important issue in mind when developing webOS.

I was just about ready to buy my Storm, but now I'm patiently waiting to test the new Pre before I make any sudden moves. Will it work with my TurboPasswords, Checklist and universe of OS 5 apps? Whatever the case, it's a strong contender for me because it's not just an upgrade for a legacy Palm user. This looks like a stunning phone in its own right.

Stay tuned...

No comments: