The PDA Rebooted Editorial
A new editorial piece on the current state of the PDA market has been posted by 1src columnist Alan Grassia. Grassia's piece begins with a brief history of the modern handheld (nee PDA/organizer) market before highlighting some of the more recent attempts at handheld devices that are essentially PDA-type machines that tout drastically different core functions and branding, such as the Sony’s recently refreshed Mylo line, Apple's iPod Touch and the Nokia Internet Tablets. Of course, Hewlett Packard's recent efforts to rekindle the market have seen two new iPaq units that pack about every conceivable feature into a classic PDA form factor as well as "Travel Companions" that are little more than conventional handhelds with gigs of internal storage and an emphasis on integrated GPS functionality. The editorial is relatively brief but manages to nicely summarize the short but tumultuous history of the PDA market as well as the feelings of the majority of "classic" Palm OS handheld fans who are desperately awaiting new product from Palm.
Palm has recently endured a myriad of troubles, ranging from buggy product releases, worrying financial news, layoffs, new product delays, the loss of several large retail partners and, most recently, the closure of all of the Palm-branded retail stores and kiosks. Is it conceivable that some of this misery is due to Palm's failure to allocate any R&D dollars towards new handheld-type devices or even larger-screened variants of their Centro and Treo lines. This issue is fully addressed within the 1src editorial as utter customer dissatisfaction with Palm and its total neglect of a declining but still fanatically loyal user base of non-telephony devices. Ed Colligan's comments that handhelds are a “mature” market seem especially hollow in light of the flurry of interest surrounding the Apple, hp, and Nokia efforts listed above.
Grassia then goes on to make one suggestion in his editorial that echoes my own sentiments as well as many longtime PIC readers: Palm could have a tidy little business and receive a fair amount of user goodwill by offering affordably priced software updates to key OS and bundled applications to their remaining handhelds. Ideally, a ROM-based updater routine would save precious RAM space and ensure that models such as the Palm TX and Tungsten E2, still reasonable competitive from a hardware standpoint, could be viable for another year or two "as is". Keeping these two to three-year-old hardware designs fresh with new software might be seen by some skeptics as a tactic borrowed from Apple’s playbook (as the recent iPod Touch $20 update hoopla illustrates) but to long-suffering Palm OS handheld devotees, it’d be seen as a resounding show of support and commitment by Palm Inc. to an aging but still viable platform. And no, in my opinion, a desperate bid to prop up the balance sheet and clear inventory with as a slew of pre-holiday retail sales of the remaining Palm OS handhelds doesn't really count as renewed commitment to the platform.
With 2008 looking to be a transitional year for Palm as a stable full of Windows Mobile-based Treos are released, revamped "2.0" versions of the Palm TX, E2 and Z22 could be coupled with minor price drops to ensure that Palm maintains some retail store presence through the end of the year. With the arrival of the much-ballyhooed Palm OS Nova sometime in Q1 '09, Palm’s chances to field a wide array of products should increase exponentially, especially once Jon Rubinstein is able to wave his magic wand over Palm’s R&D department. If nothing else, a few solid updates to the existing Palm TX would give Palm something to market as an affordable media-centric device with a large screen, wi-fi, and, love it or hate it, the classic Palm OS Garnet.