(Kudos to Ed Miller for inspiring today’s post…)
My almost decade-long pursuit of the perfect smartphone has been punctuated by three exemplary handsets — my current Nokia E61i, my much beloved Fido-branded hiptop and my first sidearm of note, the Handspring Treo 270 shown above. I even suffered through the VisorPhone, a proto-Treo also developed by Palm inventor Jeff Hawkins — but its cheap GSM radio made it all but unusable as a cellular phone.
Handspring of course is no more, having willfully returned to the Palm mothership back in 2003. And now Palm is in big trouble. Once an innovator, today Palm is at best a commodity supplier of Windows Mobile handsets, along with some others running the ancient Palm OS that the company no longer owns. Palm stock is currently in free fall, having plunged from $19.50 USD just before Halloween to a mere $5.52 as of this writing — so it’s hardly surprising to hear that an unknown number of Palm employees are getting pink slips for Christmas.
So where did Palm go wrong?
The short answer is that it has failed on all fronts to keep up with more nimble competitors. The Treo lost ground to the BlackBerry early on in the race for mobile email supremacy, and Palm’s huge catalog of legacy third-party apps ain’t so impressive once you realize that the operating system is incapable of multitasking — that is, the ability to run more than one program at the same time. It was the stuff of dreams when I started using my Treo in 2002, but an inexcusable absence five years later.
Becoming a licensee of Windows Mobile was another sign that the company had run out of ideas. Here too it didn’t stand a chance against HTC, who seem to be releasing a new WinMo handset every five minutes! And the must-have features of 2007, first WiFi and then GPS, still don’t come standard on any Treo, WinMo or otherwise…
The one-two punch that history may show as Palm’s killing blow came first from the Tech Blog Engadget, which (among other things) urged the company to abandon its Foleo smartphone companion, then from Asus, who trumped the Flop-eo with their own Eee PC.
By odd coincidence, I’ve had a renewed interest in my Nokia Internet Tablet since the company that bought the Palm OS released a free Palm emulator for it. I’m grateful that all those Palm software licenses I’ve purchased over the years aren’t going to waste, but I have to admit that poking around that old OS feels a lot like interacting with a museum exhibit…
If Palm dies, here’s what I’ll miss:
- Graffiti – the best handwriting recognition I’ve ever used, or at least the only one I ever trusted.
- Bejeweled – it may well have been the killer app of the Palm OS. I prefer the original 1.o version, without the cheesy music…
- Easter Eggs in third-party apps – I’ll always remember turning on my Treo moments after midnight on New Year’s Eve and being greeted by fireworks dancing across my screen, courtesy of a program I was using at the time called BigClock.
And not so much:
- HotSync – it was tolerable pre-Mac OS X, but SyncML simply blows it away.
- Though it did have the requisite charm strap, Treos could never be mistaken for a sexy Japanese keitai. My most embarrassing Treo moment was when a colleague asked me why I was talking to my calculator!
- Did I mention the lack of multitasking?