For most people, there’s at least one feature a mobile device must have if they are even going to consider it. For some this is a touchscreen. For others it’s a QWERTY keyboard. And for a good number of people, it’s Wi-Fi.
Palm has smartphones that can satisfy those first two groups, but for the third it has fallen short.
I think understand why. Company executives probably believe that, because Palm offers Treos with 3G cellular-wireless capabilities, Wi-Fi is unnecessary. The problem is, it just doesn’t work that way.
Yes, at first glance, Wi-Fi and 3G are a lot alike. Both let you wirelessly transfer data very quickly. But the similarities end there.
Wi-Fi vs. 3G
To put it simply, for most people Wi-Fi is essentially free. Anyone who wants it for their house can add it to their Internet setup for the very low one-time cost of a wireless router. It’s freely available in many offices and campuses, as well as restaurants and coffee shops. Many whole towns and cities are installing free Wi-Fi networks.
The cost for a single month’s 3G service, on the other hand, is higher than the one-time expense buying of a Wi-Fi router. A service that costs $50 or so a month is simply out of the price range of the average consumer.
It comes down to this: $500 a year or maybe more for 3G or essentially nothing for Wi-Fi access.
Broadening the Treo’s Appeal
I’m not here to argue the relative merits of Wi-Fi and 3G. The point I’m making is that there’s a significant group for whom 3G simply isn’t an option. And if Palm wants these people to get Treos, it needs to make them with Wi-Fi.
I know this would cause difficulties for Palm OS-based Treos. Limitations in the operating system make it very difficult, if not outright impossible, to make a device that offers Wi-Fi and cellular-wireless networking simultaneously. But the company is working on a new operating system — sometimes called Palm OS II — and the first smartphone running it really ought to offer Wi-Fi.
The situation for Windows Mobile-based devices is much simpler. There would be no problem making a Treo with Wi-Fi if it was running this operating system.
What I’m hoping is that there will be both Palm OS II and Windows Mobile smartphones from Palm with Wi-Fi.
The Carrier Problem
There’s another player in this game whose opinions have to be factored in: the wireless carriers. Many of them are still a bit leery at the idea of Wi-Fi. Not surprisingly, they want their customers to sign up for those expensive 3G plans, not use the free Wi-Fi services.
There’s no doubt that Palm will have to listen to the wishes of the carriers, but it could do so by making two versions of its Treos, one with Wi-Fi and one without. It would then be up the carriers to decide which version to offer.
If this seems unreasonable, I’ll point out that Palm already does this with cameras. Virtually every carrier that offers Treos sells two versions: one with a built-in camera and one without.
It Seems Like a No-Brainer
I can sum this editorial up with a sentence or two: "Palm, there are people who want to buy your products. Don’t force them to give their money to someone else."
Years ago, Palm dragged its feet on putting Wi-Fi into its handhelds, and didn’t really get on board with that until the ship had already pretty much sailed. I don’t want Palm to miss the boat again.