Palm Analyst Day

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Once a year Palm executives journey cross-country to brief Wall Street analysts on the status of Palm. This year’s Palm Analyst Day, as it’s called, was held on Monday October 28th at the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue in New York, coinciding with the release of its new Tungsten handhelds. So Palm decided to make a day of it, combining the typical financial dog-and-pony show with a press event introducing the new products, and topping it all off with a vendor showcase of products that support the Palm economy. Curious, I flew from Atlanta to the Big Apple to see what this Palm Analyst Day was all about.

Palm Executives at Analyst Day

It began promptly at 8:00 AM with a one-hour press event announcing the new Tungsten T and W handhelds and, yes, I was late, despite getting up before the sun rose. Here’s my story. I flew into New Jersey on Saturday and spent the weekend with my daughter, hopping a commuter bus into the city at 7:00 AM on Monday. Once into the city I queued up at the Port Authority Bus Terminal to catch a cab to the W Hotel, which is one of my favorites and a prime spot for celebrity watching. The entire commute went smoothly but still I was fifteen minutes late. Why? Seems that in my sixteen years in Atlanta I’ve forgotten just how long the entire NJ-to-NY process takes. Trust me, I don’t miss it.

When I arrived the room was nearly filled. It’s difficult to give exact numbers since the crowd consisted of a combination of Palm associates, vendors, and even some members of the press, but it’s safe to say that there were at least fifty financial analysts in attendance. There were a number of familiar faces, such as Jack Gold from META Group and Ryan Kairer from PalmInfocenter, and the folks from Palm’s public relations firm, A&R Partners, were there. The user group community was also well-represented and I had the opportunity to catch up with Michael Ashby from InterPUG, Peter Fine from the New York City users group and Michael Steinberg from the New England Palm Users Group. Also, several financial analysts, including Kenneth Li, senior writer for TheStreet.com, introduced themselves and told me how much they liked Brighthand, which is always nice to hear.

Targeting the Premium Customer

Todd Bradley, CEO of Palm Solutions Group, kicked off the product launch but quickly turned things over to Ken Wirt, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Product Management. Mr. Wirt reviewed Palm’s studies into the handheld market, covering segmentation, demographics, and price points, and where the new Tungsten and Zire products fit in. He said that one of Palm’s challenges is moving from basic consumers to the higher end of the market, the “premium customer” as Palm refers to them. That’s what the Tungsten is all about and he showed how in a series of demonstrations.

Sprinkled in with demonstrations of the T and W were a few interesting tidbits, such as gigabyte SD cards by year end, the unveiling of the cool new mini-keyboard, and demos of Kinoma Player playing the Harry Potter II trailer and MT3D playing MasterThief, a three-dimensional first person shooter (FPS) game. There was even time for some entertainment when three members of the cast of the off-Broadway show The Water Coolers sang a tribute to their Palm handhelds. It was delightful, and although I could not attend the entire show later that evening since I had to catch a 9:00 PM flight back to Atlanta, I will be sure to see The Water Coolers next time I’m in New York.

One of the most interesting demonstrations of the day came from Texas Instruments, makers of the OMAP processor used in the Tungsten T. Gilles Delfassy, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Texas Instrument’s Wireless Terminals Business Unit, ran some fairly intense graphics tests against both TI’s processor at 144 MHz and processors from “another big chip maker” running at 206 MHz and 400 MHz. Let me tell you, the OMAP processor cleaned Intel’s clock, finishing the test in less than one-third the time. Mr. Delfassy claimed that not does TI’s processor operate more efficiently (it uses as little as one-sixth the megahertz to produce the same numbers of MIPS) but it consumes significantly less power — more than 90% less power than a 400 MHz Xscale processor in standby mode.

Don’t call it a phone

Palm’s new wireless entry, the Tungsten W, will be rolled out in phases worldwide, starting with Europe in the first quarter of 2003 through Vodafone. The estimated price of the GSM/GPRS unit is $549, although cellular providers may ultimately subsidize it when you sign a long-term contract for service. SingTel will be the provider for Asia and AT&T Wireless for the United States. Andre Dahan, President of AT&T Wireless Mobile Multimedia Services, was not prepared to talk about service packages and pricing.

The device reminds me of the i705 with a built-in keyboard — unfortunately unlit — but even lighter. The material used in the casing is different, as is the antenna, and it can double as a GSM cellphone. Palms says that the 1500 mAH battery will provide 10 hours talk time or three weeks battery life if you just use the PDA functions of the W. Rick Hartwig, the product manager for the Tungsten W, ran it through a few demos, from VersaMail to Movian’s VPN client to IBM chat client SameTime (which we expect will be bundled with the unit). You can make up to five phone calls at the same time plus send SMS messages. While it does not come with built-in Bluetooth, it does have an SD slot that supports the Bluetooth SD card. Unfortunately there are no plans to support Bluetooth headsets.

Looking forward

Eric Benhamou, Chairman and CEO of Palm, Inc., reiterated Palm-s plans to create two “well-capitalized, profitable, high-growth companies” with Palm Solutions Group and PalmSource. It will be at least four years, however, until this has any chance of becoming reality. PalmSource CEO David Nagel said that China could provide enormous growth for Palm, in addition to Europe and Latin America. Mr. Nagel hopes to have PalmSource profitable by fiscal year 2004 and has brought on a new CFO, Al Wood, to help achieve that goal.

What’s coming for Palm? Although it won’t discuss products currently in development, Palm mentioned four areas to watch for. First is imaging. Palm believes that the process of taking pictures and viewing them on your handheld must be simplified, in much the same way that Apple did with iPhoto and FireWire. Second, expect to see high-end technology, such as high-res screens and faster processors, migrate from top-of-the-line devices down as price permits. Multimedia will probably be later than earlier since it will require both processors and screens to come down in price. Bluetooth communications won’t likely surface in entry-level device for 3-5 years as ease-of-use considerations are worked out.

What do I see coming for Palm? Surely it will enter the smartphone market, the question is when. The growth is there and a voice-centric device will complete the high-end of its product line. Also, there’s a whole opening up in the middle of its product family. The m130 and m515 will likely see end-of-life in less than a year (Palm is now offering $50 rebates on both units), which results in a huge gap between the $99 Zire and the $499 Tungsten T. Expect products to fill this gap sometime next spring.

The Vendor Showcase

The event concluded at 4:00 PM with a two-hour vendor showcase. Approximately twenty-five vendors set up small tables in the reception area, while waiters circled the crowd offering appetizers and a line formed at the open bar. After several years in the industry, I’m finally beginning to enjoy this hob-knobbing part of my job, so let me tell you about a few of the more interesting products I saw.

EMTAC GPS EMTAC showed me its Bluetooth GPS receiver, a tiny gadget that when combined with software such as Mapopolis and a Palm handheld provides a compact mapping solution. We’ll have a complete review of this in the next two weeks. Pico Communications was also there demonstrating its Bluetooth wireless access point. Ed Hardy, Mike Skott and I are hoping to get our hands on one and set up a Bluetooth network alongside our existing 802.11b networks. Visto Corporation gave me a brief look at its mail solution, which provides mail forwarding for the Tungsten W, so that you can forward your corporate email and still use your corporate email address when responding.

LandWare's Ken Landau It’s always nice to bump into familiar faces and two notables were Shrinath Acharya, CEO of MARGI Systems, and Ken Landau, CEO of LandWare. Mr. Acharya told me that the Presenter To Go SD card has been a big hit, but they are always looking to improve it. So, Brighthand readers, drop me an email and tell me how it can be “even better” and I’ll pass it on to the folks at MARGI. LandWare is still pumping out outstanding products and Ken Landau filled by Tungsten T with several cool products to evaluate, including 9-Ball, Shanghai, Small Talk, and Wine Guide. He also gave me a copy of LandWare’s new Financial Assistant software, developed in conjunction with Money Magazine. Yes, I asked him about Pocket Quicken for Pocket PC and he said that, while he can’t commit to a date, there are two developers hard at work finishing it up. Let me guess, ActiveSync isn’t as friendly as HotSync.

ArcSoft's PhotoBase Handmark was in attendance and displaying its growing lineup of software titles, from the Rand McNally Road Atlas to Scrabble and Monopoly, as was Astraware with its Palm OS 5 version of Bejeweled. And on the picture-taking end of the spectrum, Minolta’s Steven Eliasof showed me the 4 megapixel DiMAGE F100 digital camera that uses SD. It was surprising lightweight and even took 35 second video clips. To view your pictures you’ll want to have ArcSoft’s PhotoBase, which is bundled with the Tungsten T and includes an easy-to-use desktop component. Finally, Kinoma was there previewing its Palm OS 5-ready Kinoma Player. They gave me a demo of it running a movie at more than 200 frames per second. Very slick.

Datastick However, the two products that caught my eye were the data-acquisition products from Datastick and the Photo Traveler SD card from Veo. Datastick are experts in sensor-based data acquisition and they showed me a couple of their solutions, including a Bluetooth sensor (seen on top of the remote vehicle in the photo).

Veo’s SD camera is true plug-and-play and should be on the market within the next month. It’s everything we’d hoped for, good resolution 640 x 480, 24-bit color and incredibly lightweight. And I believe they said it would go for $99. Wow!

Veo's SD camera card

My trip ended with a visit to Ground Zero, which is a site to behold. Obviously, having grown up in the New York metropolitan area and having worked at One Liberty Plaza, which is directly across the street from where the World Trade Center stood, it was an emotional visit, but one I’ll never forget.

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