Change is hard

19 Jun 2008

Many of you will certainly be relieved that I'm not going to talk about the iPhone, which has garnered more headlines in the past two weeks than high commodity prices and Obama's anticlimactic victory combined.

At the beginning of the year, my technology editor quipped, "you need new toys," after eyeing my Treo with its stubby antenna and cracking case.

Being a huge Palm PDA user since 2000, the move to the Treo was natural and smooth. The software was intuitive and quick, and the attraction of device convergence was compelling.

What's not to like‾ Beside a great user interface with a touch-screen, it had simple things like external SIM and SD card slots and a ringer switch at top. That's something surprisingly few handset makers do. But times move on - at least for most tech companies. But not for Palm.

More than three years later (that's three to four handset replacements for the average mobile user in Hong Kong and Singapore) the latest iteration - the 680 - continues to sport the same processing speed (312 MHz) and the same display (320 by 320 pixels) - and still no Wi-Fi. A reviewer in 2005 called the 650's resolution "absolutely lovely." But what was cutting edge then, just doesn't cut it now. Both the LG Prada and iPhone have a resolution of 320 x 480 pixels.

And it is still about the same size - at 20.3 mm it's just 2 mm thinner than in December 2004. Compare that to 11.4 mm for the Moto Q, 11.7 mm for the iPhone and 15.2 mm for the BlackBerry Curve. It's interesting to note that the 650 had almost the identical dimensions as it predecessor the 600. Wisely, the firm didn't want to tinker with a solid design at the time. But such a strategy can only last so long.

Palm's lethargic product pipeline has certainly impacted its share of the smartphone market, which in the US (one of its strongest markets) dropped from 23% in Q1 2007 to just 13.4% in Q1 2008 (a major rebound thanks to the Centro from a low of 7.9% in Q4 last year). That's in a market growing 30% globally.

Apple's gain

In a cutthroat industry you keep up or your rivals eat your lunch. Apple has gained a 5.3% of the global smartphone market in less than one year - RIM is No.2 with a 13.4% share after market leader Nokia.

Over 42 months without a significant design upgrade and just a $100 price drop doesn't signal, even to the most loyal customers, value for money. I wanted desperately to stay with the Palm OS. But why spend $510 for basically the same device without an external antenna and a weight loss of 33 grams‾

I needed a reason like streamlined dimensions to keep up with the times.

Loyalty only goes so far. So after a long wait, I was forced to abandon the Palm OS camp. And as many of my colleagues will attest after putting up with my rants, the migration has been less than seamless. I knew at the time it wouldn't be easy, but I wanted to experience moving data to other devices.

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