Palm and Handhelds: The Writing Is on the Wall

by Reads (12,100)

A few months ago, I wrote an editorial asking for peoples’ thoughts on what the next traditional handheld from Palm, Inc. ought to look like.

At that time, I promised to write a followup editorial compiling everyone’s suggestions. I never did this, and I want to explain why: I am now convinced that Palm will never release another traditional handheld. Ever.

I’m basing this on several statements from company executives, both public and private. Palm CEO Ed Colligan talks regularly about the demand for traditional handhelds declining into a "soft landing". What he means is that he expects sales of devices like the Palm TX and Tungsten E2 to gradually drop off until they reach zero.

Palm isn’t going to replace these handhelds with new ones, it’s hoping to transition their users into smartphones. A senior director put it to me like this: in Palm’s opinion, a $100 smartphone is a better device in every way than a $100 handheld.

This same person — Joe Fabris, Senior Director for Wireless Solutions at Palm — pointed out that the company has to concentrate its limited resources on its key products, smartphones.

So there it is; there isn’t going to be a TX2. Palm has decided this would be a niche product and an unnecessary distraction away from its focus on smartphones.

That’s why I never compiled your suggestions for a new Palm handheld into an editorial. Doing so would feel like I was raising your hopes for a device that’s not going to be built.

There Are Alternatives

I’m not writing this because I enjoy playing Captain Bringdown. I want everyone who is looking for a replacement for their current Palm handheld — and who is absolutely opposed to getting a Treo — to realize that you have to stop waiting for Palm to put out the TX2.

Fortunately there are some good options out there. Palm may have given up on the traditional handheld, but others haven’t.

Garnet VM on a Nokia N810
Nokia N810 and Palm OS Apps
(view large image)

Nokia N800 and N810: An announcement from Access, Co, Ltd. yesterday that it is releasing software that lets Nokia’s Internet Tablet series run Palm OS applications has catapulted the N810 and N800 to the front of the line as Palm TX replacements.

The new Access software is still a beta, but it shows a lot of potential, and the Nokia devices themselves have an impressive feature set, including large, high-resolution displays and multiple wireless options. All they are missing is a large collection of third-party software, and that’s where a Palm OS emulator can really shine.

HP iPAQ 110 or 210 and StyleTap: I realize that for some of you this seems like turning to the Dark Side, but StyleTap makes an application that allows Windows Mobile devices to run Palm OS software.

In addition, HP is bringing out a couple of new iPAQs that you should really consider. They have fast processors, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and much more. Admittedly the iPAQ 110 has a QVGA screen, but the iPAQ 210 will have a full VGA one, and two types of memory card slots to boot.

Apple iPod touch: Apple’s first handheld since the demise of the Newton is the dark horse candidate. Unlike the other two there’s no way to run your favorite Palm OS applications, but Apple is going to open it up to third-party developers.

The iPod touch has a very nice web browser and a user interface that’s a breeze. It’s missing some features you might consider necessities, like email software, but developers might come to its rescue.

Which one of these is best depends on your needs. But they are all much better than you continuing to wait for a device Palm is never going to release.

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