Some years ago, Microsoft had this tag line: “so where do you want to go today?” I used to laugh when I would see a MS ad and then see this tag line because all I would think is that MS didn’t know where they were going besides following the bouncing ball of more innovative companies. As I wandered through the news this week, different items that came up made me think of this slogan again. But, more from the idea of companies who really haven’t given their customers a clear idea of where they are going.
Possibly the biggest news of the last week had to be HP’s readying to release at least one (possibly up to three) wireless models. That it is big news on a few fronts. In one respect, it’s a good way to keep people interested after the high level shake-up of a few weeks ago. I really looked for HP to do something, and besides this new release, they have also started the process of making their accessories priced more in line with their competition.
The main thing that makes me question HP though is their industrial design team. For such a well compensated group, they sure do have very uninspired designs for products. Especially on the PDA side, this new hw6500 looks like a BlackBerry that had one too many holiday feasts. It just doesn’t look inspired at all. Even with the occasional hiccup of a good design here and there, for the most part, HP’s designs have done the way of the Model T — a look best served in another generation. Where I would like to see HP go: on the product design level, live up to that idea of innovation. Don’t just include the latest technology, but make it accessible (a.k.a., better prices please) and make it look the part of being designed by a company that takes market tastes seriously.
As an industry, there has not been anything since the automobile that has made mobility so much a part of so many people.
Right now the mobile phone has penetrated every area that requires a phone, but is now on the verge of making just as large of an inroad to the Internet. Smartphones have been classified as the next generation of mobile phones, taking us closer to the Star Trek model of a personal communicator that is both efficient and can carry loads of data. But like HP, the price of this technology integration keeps it out of the hands of those that would most need this. I am sure that by and large, that most of the people we speak to would love to have a phone that works as good as some PDAs. But have you seen the implementations put forth? I am no expert, but I know numbers. When you have only one or two models to recommend out of a field of nearly 50, there is an issue that is not being addressed. PalmOne seems to have gotten it with their Treo 650 and Treo 600, but where is everyone else. Why is it that a MS Smartphone cannot have a touch screen interface, or why do smartphones look and act more like PDAs, than the phones they try to replace? I won’t even address the price issue — if you have to pay more than $250 for a phone, people just don’t buy, and they want the freebies. No one seems to get it, or maybe everyone gets it and someone else just doesn’t want to see smartphones succeed. I, for one, would love to see them become the phone of choice, instead of those throw away phones, maybe then it would force people to actually learn about the functions of their phone, rather than just how to add ringtones and graphics.
This past week, PalmSource has had a few announcements that on one hand seem well thought out, but if looked at in the context of “where do you want to go today,” it is the sign of some unrest on the side of mobile computing. PalmSource, the holders of the ever popular PalmOS, has gone through some changes in the past few years. First, there was the split of Palm, Inc. into PalmSource and palmOne. PalmSource announces a complete rewrite of their operating system, PalmOS Cobalt. Yet, even after a year of it being introduced, Cobalt has yet to appear on any handheld device. And a few weeks ago, PalmSource bought the Linux-using company, China Mobile Soft. In simple terms, Linux and PalmOS are both operating systems that are trying to unseat Windows as the dominant operating system for computers. Each does something a bit different: the calling card for Linux being is low cost and better security over Windows; and PalmOS being the simple to use and efficient OS primarily for mobile devices.
This week there were two articles about PalmSource that revealed a lot about the future direction of the PalmOS and what that could mean for mobile computer users. One article came from InfoWorld and IDG News Services and their interview with PalmSource CEO David Nagel. In this interview, Nagel talked about the acquisition of Linux and what it will mean for the development of the PalmOS. The more interesting part of that article that I noticed was how much PalmSource seems to be moving from all of the development of Cobalt. For all of the impressiveness that Cobalt is, PalmSource noticed that there was not sufficient reason for device manufacturers to use it because of the cost needed to make drivers and other components. That is a problem from the viewpoint of a company who is trying to make inroads (let alone a profit). But, what about all of those far reaching statements about the development of Cobalt? I was excited about Cobalt, but with all of this PalmSource and Linux news, my excitement for the platform is dwindling. I am sure that others are feeling the same way.
The second article did little to increase my energy for the PalmOS platform, but did in some respect answer some questions I had. The second article was found at MobileBurn (a popular mobile phones website) and was another interview. This time, it was with Albert Chu, the Vice President of Business Development at PalmSource who talked about the Linux developments, but gave more clarity to the overall vision of PalmSource. He talked about how PalmSource is really set on being the premier operating system for mobile devices, and especially smartphones. The article even referenced how PalmSource sees Nokia, not Microsoft, as their biggest hurdle/rival. I was intrigued while reading this article. More so because I wondered what would happen for those people that wanted separate devices, people who wanted a tablet-form computer but could handle files and the Internet as well as a laptop, or even people who just wanted a phone without all the fluff? I see what PalmSource is doing, but I don’t know if I agree with them. But that is just me, I am more a consumer than anything. When I see a company moving all over the place, no matter how well everything they do sounds, it doesn’t give me much confidence that they will be a company that will be able to stand the test of time (though I do value adaptability, so how do I figure that one out).
PalmOne, Dell, et al
So where do they want to go today. Right now the PDA industry is caught between its past of souped-up data organizers, and its future of mobile data terminals. Where they used to be calendar and contacts with the occasional color or picture viewing ability thrown in, now we are seeing the move towards PDAs that can be the centers of multimedia households, PDAs that have phone’s built in, and PDAs that are just more powerful than desktop computers of only four years ago. PDAs have grown, but there has to be some direction on the side of all manufacturers to create not just the most advanced devices, but devices that are also accessible. It is not enough anymore just to have a well priced product, from just our forums here at BargainPDA, people want more than just functions, they want a device that is easy to pick up and hard to put down. If the software crashes often, the hardware doesn’t meet expectations, or even if the design is lagging, people will not step up. Yes, there are plenty of impressive devices out there today, but I pose this question to every company that is invested in handheld computing on some level: where do you want to go today? Tell us (your customers) because we are willing to buy, if you are willing to but forth an earnest effort.