My Palm Epiphany

by Reads (5,825)

People change, and companies change too. For the past year I’ve claimed to cover the entire spectrum of handheld devices, but in fact I’ve become rather Pocket PC-centric instead of handheld centrist. Well, that’s about to change. My commitment for 2001 is to cover Palm with as much vigor and enthusiasm as I have Pocket PC.

What’s gotten into me, you ask? It’s something I refer to as "my Palm epiphany", and it revolves around my realization that Palm and Handspring are correct–simple doesn’t preclude functionality.

Today at the Consumer Electronics Show I listened to a compelling and entertaining presentation by Palm’s main man, Carl Yankowski. Yankowski, who came to Palm after stints with Reebok and Sony, arrived onstage at the Las Vegas Hilton in his immaculately restored 1975 Volkswagen Super Beetle. The car was more than just another tradeshow stunt, it served as the touchstone for Yankowski’s comments, that design is what’s truly important.

During the next hour Yankowski gave a masterful overview of where Palm’s been and where it’s going. He was relaxed but in control, never stumbling despite numerous transitions between monologues and demonstrations, and segues to videos, including Palm commercials (my favorite of which was the David Letterman spoof of the famous Palm train ad, which ends with Anna beaming "Stop staring at me, freakshow" to Dave on the other train) and testimonials.

Yankowski attributes the success of Palm to lifestyle changes: the ever narrowing gap between personal and professional lives, which he calls "our MTV world".

"Newton and General Magic were great ideas launched ahead of their time," he said.

He’s openly proud of Palm’s 68% market share and its place as an icon in 21st century culture, as well he should be. He attributes Palm’s success to three things: a sophisticated yet simple user experience, transparent technology (of which he says has "nothing to do with putting a PC in your pocket") and the Palm economy, its loyal following of third-party developers.

Yet despite Palm’s success, Yankowski readily admits that "the revolution has just begun." "Technology should serve us rather than enslave us," said Yankowski, pointing out that it should "set us free."

He blames the computer industry for being "too introspective" and putting "the cart before the horse", technology before usability.

"In the PC era, technology drove the user experience," he began. "The fact that a recharger weighs more than the device itself is evidence of that." But he questioned whether adding feature after feature makes our lives easier or whether it results in "technological overkill [that] has insidious implications."

Yankowski explained how The Palm Vision, which includes Palm OS 4.0, with its support of 16-bit color and telephony, and Palm OS 5.0 and its promise of multimedia and ARM chips, will remain true to the Palm principles of simplicity, flexibility, elegance in design, and wearability. But just because you employ simple design doesn’t mean that you lack expandability, according to Yankowski.

Evidence of this lies in Sony’s ability to add MemoryStick support, Handspring’s expanded Springboad technology and Palm’s own move in SecureDigital cards.

Yankowski’s presentation was not without a few new announcements. First, Garmin has joined ranks with Palm and will be shipping a Palm compatible product by early 2002. And Delphi, the General Motors spinoff, is working with Palm on onboard products for tomorrow’s automobiles.

However, the most impressive new announcement took the form of a live demonstration, when Yankowski beamed embedded VISA card information from his Palm Vx to a point-of-sale system for purchases with The Sharper Image. This type of secure digital point-of-sale transaction technology, which uses telephone lines and infrared technology, is expected to be in stores for the next holiday season.

Palm obviously has a vision that includes advanced technologies and formidable partners but it will always center around its core value–simplicity.

Yankowski concluded by stating that technology should be “as simple as flipping a switch, as powerful as falling in love.”

Well said.

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