Does the palmOne Treo 650 Replace Treo 600? Not Exactly.

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palmOne gets a little upset when people call the Treo 650 just an “evolution” of the Treo 600.  They insist that it is indeed a step up the ladder and not just a leg lift towards that next step.  If you look at the devices side-by-side (as pictures in this article show) then you’ll probably agree that the new keyboard and screen alone do make for a good argument this is not just a few features slapped onto an existing device and then called new.  So having called the Treo 650 a revolutionary and new device which is clearly better in every way than the Treo 600, we can assume the 650 will replace the 600 and production of the 600 will end now, correct?  Incorrect.

palmOne Treo 600 on the left, Treo 650 on the right.  Notice the slight bend in the keyboard for the 650, backlit keys, smaller antenna and (although it’s hard to tell due to picture blurriness) brighter hgher-res screen

palmOne is in the business of selling PDA and Smart Phone devices and so their success is measured by the number of devices they sell.  As with almost any product in any market, if people know of or sense something else better is just around the corner then that person will measure the value of waiting for the new product or simply buying what is available now.  Most times, although we’re humans and naturally impatient, we’ll be willing to wait a few weeks or months for the next best thing to arrive.  It’s nice to have the latest and greatest.  So companies like palmOne will try and “hide” what’s coming next, they’d rather customers be ignorant of any new product coming so that a buying decision for a current product on the market is not dissuaded.  Witness the recent steep decline of sales of video game systems
as people hold off buying a Playstation 2 or XBox since they know the next generation systems will be here next year.  Or how about car sales at the end of a model year, dealers have to slash prices on 2004 models when the release of a 2005 model is pending or people would simply stop buying and wait a few weeks for the new and improved model.  palmOne wants to avoid such problems of slumping hardware sales with devices such as the Treo 600 that is superceeded by the Treo 650.

palmOne Treo 600 on the left, Treo 650 on the right.  Both are in camera mode and the screen is acting as the camera viewer.  Although the picture is blurry and it’s hard to tell, the resolution on the Treo 650 makes previewing pictures twice as crisp.

So even though we knew full well about the Treo 650 months ago and had a rough idea for its specs, palmOne of course had nothing to say about it.  The Treo 650 indeed had the longest beta test cycle of any palmOne device ever released, so the 650 has been in the pipeline some time.  And now the 650 has seen the light of day palmOne is trumpeting it as the next generation of its Treo line they of course want you to run out and buy it.  But there’s a problem, if you don’t use Sprint as your wireless provider then tough luck Arnold, you can’t buy it yet.  Sprint will be the only carrier offering the 650 this year.  Sprint has stated they will phase out the Treo 600 in favor of the Treo 650.  And when palmOne is asked how long it will take to roll this device out to other carriers such as Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T they’re kind of vague and allude to the fact it could take a long time.  So if you’re with somebody else other than Sprint and don’t want to go through the hassle of switching carriers just to get the Treo 650, you have no choice but to buy the Treo 600.  palmOne has stated production will absolutely continue with the Treo 600 indefinitely.  And then they even have a song and dance for why the Treo 600 is still a really great device and worth buying.  After this song and dance you’re left scratching your head because they just did a song and dance for why the Treo 650 is a really great device and obviously head over heels better than the Treo 600.

palmOne Treo 600 on the left, Treo 650 on the right

Personally I don’t use Sprint as a wireless provider, and I don’t have a Treo.  I don’t want to switch providers, what a pain, and I don’t want to buy a Treo 600 because…well it’s old and there’s something better out.  And this is where the world of Smart Phones, or wireless devices in general, becomes frustrating for both consumers and hardware manufacturers.  palmOne is stuck in the awkward position of selling a new device and touting how much better it is.  Meanwhile, due to slow carrier rollout and availability of the 650, they’re also
going to have to persuade consumers that their older device is still okay and worth buying too.  It’s like Jekyll and Hyde.

To show off the Bluetooth feature of the Treo 650 at the CTIA announcement yesterday in San Francisco, palmOne drove in an Audi with built-in Bluetooth to show that you can control certain features of a car with your 650 if you so wish.  palmOne will be selling various Audi models bundled with the Treo 650 on palmOne.com starting in November — well not really but that’d be an interesting marketing move.

I have a sneaky suspision Sprint and palmOne signed an exclusive agreement to have the Treo 650 released on and only available on the Sprint network for a period of time before it is allowed to be rolled out on other carrier networks.  After all, Sprint has been a good partner for palmOne and helped them really get the Treo rolling in its early days, so Sprint would deserve such an agreement.  Sprint will obviously benefit being the first carrier because some customers that just can’t wait for the new 650 will sign up with Sprint.  So in a way palmOne creates its own headache of having to market two Smart Phone devices at a very similar price point but with one having a clear advantage over the other.  It’s obvious that if the Treo 650 could be instantly made available to all carriers on the same day that the production line of the Treo 600 would stop right now.  But it’s not that simple, it could take 6 months or longer for some carriers to switch over to the Treo 650.  For those with a provider using a GSM network it will of course be possible to buy a GSM Treo 650 and  plug in your SIM chip and start using it on your carriers network, but you’ll get no customer support for the device and might even make your carrier angry (which is actually kind of fun).  So lack of any support is a major detractor in buying a device.

Unfortunately I see no solution to this conundrum of a device such as the Treo 650 being distributed and made available unevenly to carriers.  There will always be preferred business relationships between carriers and hardware providers and some carriers will be slower to adopt and approve new hardware than others.  But my advice regarding the Treo 650 is that it is certainly better than the Treo 600 and worth waiting for to become available, don’t buy the Treo 600 unless the price is very sharply dropped.  palmOne has said the Treo 650 is clearly better than the Treo 600, don’t let them be two-faced and convince you the Treo 600 is still worth buying — it’s not.

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