For the past few years, as both a user and purveyor of mobile technology, I have been pretty much attached to the Palm OS side of devices. While I am not one to ever turn a blind eye to the Windows Mobile, Symbian, and Linux options out there, I realize that a Palm OS device was always the one that suited me best.
But lately–more or less since about this time last year when I started my Treo experiment–I have realized that in some respects I have viewed PDAs in the wrong light, while in others I was a bit ahead. For example, I had always been one to store things on my PDA, but it was always as a backup to what was on my desktop or laptop. But when my laptop went down earlier this year I realized the value of using the PDA as the main device and a laptop or desktop as the accessory computer.
A Long, Slow Summer
A funny thing happened on the way through this summer. Many new devices came out, but very few with the Palm OS were even rumored and only a single one was released. I have a very capable and able Treo 650, but my usage (and a few drops) has tipped me off that I need to be looking to the next device that I’ll get. Sadly, there is absolutely nothing out there that excites me. Not to say that new models are not fun to read about and review, but there has been little for me to be excited about in the PDA/smartphone space. And truthfully, part of that has been because there is so little coming from Palm OS device makers.
With that in mind, I started to look around. As in American History, what was once a majority party has taken a back seat, and two other parties have come its place to run and reign (yikes). In this case, the Palm OS has been supplanted by Symbian and Windows Mobile; neither one a true equal to the Palm OS, but each with more advanced features and at least some push towards innovating in the PDA/smartphone space.
To that end, I decided to ask myself a simple question and see if I could answer it: "If my Treo were to die tonight, would I feel comfortable with a Windows Mobile- or Symbian-based device as its replacement?"
What Can’t You Live Without?
In looking at things, I asked myself what within the Palm OS I am most unwilling to give up. I would guesstimate that many of you would have a program or twenty on that list, but what I mean is, what about the OS in particular are the things that you just do not want to give up?
For me it was two really simple strengths: ease of use and plenty of available applications.
Concerning the former, the Palm OS is very simple to use and does not have much of a learning curve at all. You see an app, tap to open it, exit by hitting the home button. I honestly love that. I like that the menus are all hidden at the top of the screen, and that programs have to offer some measure of support for the 5-way directional pad. My Treo has stayed my Treo for that one reason alone.
And, in terms of applications, there are enough similar programs (with different levels of support) to make it easy to find what you’re looking for, and then switch to another if that doesn’t quite meet your needs.
Nearing a Breaking Point
However, in using my Treo so much, I have noticed where it is being stretched quite a bit. The Treo is most definitely a PDA with a phone neatly tied into it. This is great for simple things, but a laptop replacement is pushing things a bit far. I do realize that both "simple" and "laptop replacement" is a lot to ask of one device and one OS, but it is how I use my Treo, and therefore I notice what works and what does not.
Some of these weaknesses are apparent in the lack simple (to me) multitasking. For example, I’d like to be in Mo:Blog doing a post, but then be able to switch to Blazer without having to reload the web page and then find the picture that I want halfway down the page each time.
I’d like to see much better integration with email and contacts. An all-in-one program would be nearly right for me.
And I’d like to see the OS do something cool, like alpha blend dialogs or connect to a monitor and keyboard.
These are things the Palm OS cannot do easily, although some can be done with some serious hacking.
For my next device, if my Treo were to die, it would have to step into the strengths, and have some direction towards addressing the weaknesses.
Checking Out the Competition
This is not to say that Windows Mobile and Symbian are not capable of replacing my Treo. In fact, I think that if it were not for the castrating of some Symbian devices, and the "need to registry hack" of the Windows Mobile devices, they would be nearly just right.
Some devices that have caught my eye recently have been the M600 from Sony Ericsson, and the HTC Excalibur. I think those devices are right there, but the ease of use is not apparent to me, nor am I pleased with the applications (at least on the Symbian side).
Which Would I Choose?
So which would I choose? Seriously, I don’t know.
In a pinch I would go with a Sony Ericsson Symbian based device (sorry Nokia), and place my bets there. Yes, it would mean getting a new memory card and learning a new OS, but that is one with which I can see having a future, a different mobile one, but a future.
With the Palm OS, I see no reason to make a new purchase, unless I was storing up a few 650s because nothing better (for me) was coming. Lack of rumors or change in the last few years will do that to you.
Only for me, it is no longer a question of why to hold on, but where I will drop to once I stop holding on.