14 July 2005

Evaluation of PDAs-2

(Part 1)

Continuing our impressions of CNet's article, I was especially interested in reader reaction to the PalmOne* Treo 650. The Treo was originally a Handspring product, but Handspring was bought out by PalmOne in 2003.** It includes a keypad and cellular phone capacities, and it appears that customer reviews of this phone were actually quite good. As usual, complaints had to do with implementation of features; several of the unfavorable comments were that it had poor sound quality; since smart phones use MIDI to deliver telephony, poor MIDI can ruin a device. Absolutely no one criticized the keypad; even this reviewer, who called the phone "miserable and time consuming," admits the keypad is great (Amazon reviews were exactly the same: great design, poor MIDI, crashes a lot).

The professional reviewer dinged the product on a large number of poorly-implemented details; also, memory allocation was problematic. However, it seems pretty clear that the user interface is regarded as satisfactory and the various PDA operating systems out there have formed viable niches favoring very specific modes of input.

The bottom line is that customers typically crave a few key features like WiFi or hands-free BlueTooth, but also insist that these features be highly reliable. On the other hand, the myriad of bells and whistles, like the Treo 650's self-portrait mirror, are a tricky decision for designers; woe betide if they interefere with using the core features of the PDA!

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*PalmOne is returning to using the Palm name. I was rather stunned to discover how poorly this firm has performed in the last two years. This chart (2004) reveals a company in free fall; by 4Q '04, PalmOne was still reeling from multiple body blows. Even now (1Q '04), Palm's sales are getting hammered, while RIM just continues to grow like gangbusters. I'm rather surprised to see the big chaebols are still lumped together in "other," and don't attract significant attention. Global Korean dominance in this field is going to happen, but probably it will begin with a joint venture and increased 3G features on smart phones.

** Handspring was itself founded by Palm personnel who left after 3Com bought Palm. They were frustrated with the decisions 3Com was imposing on Palm. That personnel including the founders of Palm, Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky.

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