COMDEX Interview With Chris Dunphy of PalmSource

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Chris Dunphy is the Director of Competitive Analysis at PalmSource.  Chris’ job is to travel the world and stay in touch with the competition that exists for Palm and be as knowledgeable as possible about anything and everything PDA/Mobile computing related.  We talked to Chris while at COMDEX about the state of PalmSource and the PDA world in general.

Palm OS 6.0 Release

We’ve all heard the rumors that Palm OS 6.0 should be ready to go by the end of the year, but things have been pretty quiet from Palm regarding the upcoming OS.  We asked Chris what the official release date might be for Palm OS 6.0 and he simply answered that there was no official release date, but that licensees are being kept in the loop for developments in the OS and will likely get a copy close to the beginning of the year.  Palm does not plan to make any announcments to the public about the availability of the OS as this would be pointless.  A device running a new OS usually doesn’t appear until 4 – 6 months after the OS release.  Witness the case of Palm OS 5.0, it was released in May 2002 but no device containing Palm OS 5.0 was shipped until October 2002.

One thing that Chris did mention was that developers would be briefed and updated on the functionality and features of Palm OS 6.0 before the public at large.  This is of course due to the fact Palm wants its developers ahead of the curve on the actual release date of the OS.  The first developer conference that will take place in the U.S. that shall address Palm OS 6.0 is to take place  place in San Jose, CA February 10-12, 2004.  There is also a conference in Beijing, China December 8-9 (which is completely booked to capacity Chris tells us) but it is unlikely Palm OS 6.0 will be addressed here.  Basically, we can assume that not much news about Palm OS 6 will arrive to us until next February and then the first devices might be released summer of 2004.

As far as an upgrade to Palm OS 6.0 for current Palm OS 5 devices, users should be aware this will likely not be offered because an OS upgrade on a handheld is not as straight forward as that of a PC.  Hardware is usually developed around and tied into the OS for handhelds and OS upgrades are just not a profit initiative for Palm or Microsoft on the handheld platform.

Thoughts on Pocket PC and Other Palm Competition

Chris’ job is to analyze the state of the PDA and mobile market.  He has to investigate all forms of competition to Palm.  Obviously this means that Chris has a keen eye on Microsoft and Windows Pocket PC platform.  When we asked Chris if he was concerned about Microsoft and them taking market share from Palm he said that of course he was and that has and will be an ongoing battle for Palm.  We asked Chris to name the most important characteristic about PalmSource’s Palm OS that makes it better than Microsoft’s Pocket PC OS.  Chris believes that the fact PalmSource gives its licensees the option to alter the OS and goes to great lengths to work closely with its licensees to aid this process means that licensees like Sony can innovate and provide more interesting devices.  Chris argues that in the Pocket PC market all devices are pretty much so the same except for hardware differences.  Microsoft does not allow licensees to tweak the Pocket PC OS for a specific device, therefore in the Pocket PC world it’s all just a battle of hardware specs and it’s hard to really differentiate a device.  Dell competes on price while HP competes on hardware innovations such as packing a lot of features into a small form factor.  Meanwhile, in the Palm OS world Sony competes both by adding cool features into the OS such as Multimedia advancements and also coming up with innovative form factors.  Sony is very happy in the relationship it has with Palm and, as we all know, Sony being a company that likes to do things its own way would gag and choke on the Pocket PC platform and the restrictions it provides to licensees in terms of sticking to what Microsoft says you can do.

We also asked Chris what he thought of Nokia and their foray into the PDA and handheld gaming market.  Specifically we talked about the Nokia N-Gauge.  Chris preferred to call the Nokia N-Gauge the ‘Game Taco’.  Needless to say he thinks the thing is ridiculous and can’t believe how bad the design of the device is, let alone the fact you can only get 9 games on the thing right now and developers have little incentive to make games for it.  We think this device is a big thumbs down too.

As far as SmartPhones go, Chris believes that Palm has the upperhand for a long time to come because of the Treo line, Samsung and other upcoming Palm OS SmartPhones.  He thinks the new Motorola MPX-200 Windows Smartphone device is somewhat uninteresting because it lacks a camera and bluetooth.  Chris is however intrigued by the SPV e200 that is running Windows SmartPhone, this is currently out in Europe on the Orange network and slated to arrive in the U.S. soon.

SPV e200 is a Windows Based phone that Chris sees as worthy competition to the Treo

Palm OS 5 Re-Release

When Chris told us Palm would be re-releasing Palm OS 5 we thought it was a stall on Palm’s part for releasing Palm OS 6.0.  However, we were mistaken, Palm is not re-releasing Palm OS 5 with some lame add-ins to throw smoke up in front of OS 6.0, but rather they are going to be releasing a version for low-end Palm OS SmartPhones for 1st Quarter 2004.  Now, we still have no clue who is making these low-end SmartPhones, all we know is that they’ll be for smaller type phones so that you can have a highly functional but relatively cheap phone.  The relatively small foot-print of Palm OS 5 will allow for these small phones with limited memory to be feasible.

XPlore G18 GS Technologies SmartPhone

XPlore G18 GS Technologies SmartPhone

Chris had 10 different devices with him at COMDEX.  One of those devices really caught our eye, mostly because it isn’t something we’ve seen in the U.S. but also because it was a really cool looking phone, very compact, and appeared to be running a Palm OS.  It turned out to be the Hong Kong made XPlore G18 GS Technologies SmartPhone.  It runs Palm OS 4, has a great screen, built-in camera and other wicked features.  Check out the
press release from Palm when this device was released:

“The Xplore G18 is a full-featured smartphone that integrates PIM functionality, multi-media capabilities, and telephony features, in a sleek and compact form factor. The Xplore G18 runs Palm OS 4.1.2 and comes bundled with several productivity, communication and gaming applications. With integrated GPRS Class 10 GSM Dual Band, the device has a built-in 320 x 240 digital camera with digital zoom; 16 MB RAM; high quality color TFT LCD screen; and SMS / MMS support. It also features a powerful battery for 100 hours standby, Web browser, and one-handed navigation.”

“The modular architecture of Palm OS allows GSL to create differentiated products for the China market, like the Xplore G18, that expand GSL’s current product offerings,” said Samson Tam, Chairman of GSL. “Our collaboration with PalmSource enables us to bring innovative mobile devices to market and extend our reach into new market segments.”

“The launch of the Xplore G18 from GSL marks an important milestone in the innovation and distribution of Palm Powered mobile devices in the China market,” said David Nagel, president and CEO of PalmSource. “Xplore G18 extends the power and flexibility of Palm OS to enable a new generation of fully-featured Palm Powered smartphones, and opens up new opportunities for Palm OS developers and carrier partners in China.”

We asked Chris if the G18 will ever find its way to the U.S.  He answered that GSL has been asked this several times before, but don’t expect anything anytime soon.  Darn.

Palm MobileWorld

PalmSource and Chris pretty excited about it’s new MobileWorld initiative.  For the end user this initiative basically means that when you have a wireless Palm device you can easily download applications Over the Air (OTA) and know that these applications have met PalmSource’s guidelines for quality and distribution via this channel.  One limitation of software that will be distributed OTA is that the size will have to be under 200K, so larger programs such as Documents To Go will need to be downloaded to the PC and installed via synch still.

Chris, His PDAs and What He Likes

Last week we featured a competition to name Chris’ PDA collection, we got responses from a lot of people with a lot of the answers right, I was amazed.  Here’s that picture again along with the devices Chris has.  Chris is a huge fan of Bluetooth and really likes Sony as a device maker.  His favorite game at the moment is Warfare which he enjoys playing on the Clie UX50 (but he looks forward to when a multi-player via Bluetooth version is released so he can play it on his soon to arrive Tapwave Zodiac).

  1. Fossil Palm OS 4.0 Wristwatch
  2. HipTop / T-Mobile Sidekick
  3. Sony Clie NX80
  4. Palm Tungsten T3
  5. Garmin iQue 3600
  6. Samsung SPH-i500
  7. XPlore G18 GS Technologies SmartPhone
  8. Sony Ericsson t68i
  9. Sony Clie UX-50
  10. Sony Clie NR70V 

Altough 10 PDAs/Phones is a lot, Chris was disappointed he did not have his Tapwave Zodiac to show us as it had just shipped that day.  In the arms race of PDAs, Chris wins!

Visit next week when Barry Doyle and myself will provide a final wrap-up of the COMDEX show and a look at the cool technologies and PDAs already available in South Korea.



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