On Palm’s Future

It’s been quite a few days since I updated my blog. Rest assured I am not dead. I was unable to load GNOME because of a conflict between the experimental and release packages. This meant that my gnome-desktop was unavailable. Unfortunately (or fortunately IMO) I wasn’t bothered enough to deal with the problem. This resulted in me having some of the most personally fulfilling and productive stretches I’ve had for quite some time. It’s amazing how much time computers can suck up.

I suppose the focus of my little talk will be the future of the PDA world. The good ole satiricists over at The Register had a small piece about how Nokia ‘could’ challenge Microsoft on its PPC turf. It made the observation that currently, MS is the reigning behemoth in the PDA world and Palm is the challenger.

Why challenger? Isn’t Palm the PDA producer with the most market shre? Yes, but the point was brought up that Microsoft with its large bankroll can pull back, regroup and attack its target market repeatedly. It may take a few tries (as seen with Windows Mobile) but before long it’ll get close enough to ‘good enough’. Then, because its a massive brand name and because people are comfortable with Windows, it’ll roll over the incumbents/competition. The article questioned how long Palm can hold up in the face of this onslaught. I don’t know – but I am saddened to opine “Not for long”.

To win against Microsoft, I believe you must have quite a few of the following attributes. The more you have, the better.

Brand Name
Ease of use
Quality
Wide range of high quality add-ons
Variety of OEM deals
More flexible software (for future expandability)
Lower Price
Higher Security

The fewer items you have on this list, the more likely you are to succumb to the apathy of a consumer. Given a choice between Microsoft or another company, the consumer will go with Microsoft – unless the competition is so much better that the differences cannot be ignored. As each day passes, Linux increases its gains in each of these attributes – making it one of the more serious competitiors to Microsoft in recent times. When I look at the PDA market, I don’t think I see the same happening with Palm.

Lets take a look at each of the attributes one by one.

Brand name – yes – people instantly know what you’re talking about when you mention a Palm.

Ease of use – I would say (objectively) that there’s probably nothing that makes a Palm _significantly_ easier for a lay person to use. I, personally, found it easier to use – but not a stunning difference.

Quality – Interesting topic that I will deal with at the end

Variety of OEM deals – Failing grade. For the longest time Palm rejected potentials because it wanted to reap all the profits. Now they’re getting pressured by the wide variety of PPC devices

More flexible software – I doubt it. The Palm OS was designed for a single purpose – to run simple PIM applications with little memory usage. It does that admirably. But everything I’ve read leads me to believe that the PalmOS is nearing the end of its tether. I doubt that application development is all that simple either. We’ll have to wait and see if PalmOS 6 is a significant improvement.

Lower Price – Depends. The lowest end PalmOS devices are much cheaper than anything available in the PPC line. However, the upper middle spectra is much more muddied, with neither the Palm or PPC having a major advantage

Higher Security – Please. PalmOS wasn’t designed with rigorous security in mind. However, PalmOS 6 was apparently designed with this goal. We’ll see.

Quality. The more I read about PDAs, the more disappointed I get. It’s been reported that a good percentage of Toshibas are DOA. The side grips on the HP 2XXX series can (and do) pop of after some usage. The T3 fries SD cards and the cover of the T|E scratches the face of the handheld. These are but a few of the problems I can find. What happened to quality control? What happened to beta testing? I believe people are willing to pay for quality and if Palm’s quality is average in comparison to the rest of the industry – they’ll definitely be losing sales because of that.

I don’t believe Palm is moving fast enough to address these points at all. One can dismiss me outhand as an outsider, but consider – I’m being lenient. The average consumer will do what they’ve been doing for sometime – buy more iPAQs. I mean, the sales of iPAQs increased by 94%, while the sales of Palms increased by 6% with iPAQs outselling Palms for the first time in Western Europe. The beginning of the end? Possibly, probably, unless Palm starts to make real distinction on all those points I mentioned.

PS (Note to any potential buyers – _don’t_ buy Toshibas – the company has below grade customer service and doesn’t seem to have an interest in supporting their products.)

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