November 05, 2004

The New Math at palmOne

Uber-gadget hound David Pogue has a good review of the new Tungsten T5 PDA at the NY Times. After all the smoke clears, he concludes that the T5 is inferior to its stunning predecessor, the T3, in every way but one: "This palmtop is also a flash drive." Per David:

"PalmOne has built a 160-megabyte flash drive right into the T5. As long as you have its U.S.B. cable with you, you can plug this palmtop into any computer for full access to your files. And that's without having to install any software on that computer first.

In some cases, you can open, play or edit your stored files, including pictures, movies, MP3 songs and even Microsoft Office documents, right on the T5." [...]

"On top of that 160 megabytes, the T5 has 55 megabytes of free memory for you to fill up with, for example, any of the 10,000 add-on palmtop programs. [...] There's something special about this memory chunk, too: for the first time in palmtop history, it isn't wiped out when your battery dies. [...]

All told, that's 215 megabytes of memory available for your use, more than any other palmtop on the market. It's enough for you to carry around several CD's worth of music, for example, without having to buy an external memory card."

Okay, that's cool and useful. Of course, to get this functionality, there's much that's been stripped from the T5 compared to the T3:
"So, with the T5, PalmOne giveth, and PalmOne cutteth corners. If you choose a T5, you'll gain one gigantic, brilliant, workflow-boosting feature, but you'll lose six others (collapsible body, brighter screen, vibrating alarm, Universal Connector, voice recorder, charging cradle). Call it the very new math of PalmOne:

T5 = T3 + 1 - 6."

Wondering where's the T4? "Answer: There never was one. Turns out the word "four" sounds like the word for death in some Asian languages. (Now that would be a big seller. "New from the U.S.A.: the beautiful new Tungsten Death!")" Hilarious, but I'll actually give palmOne kudos here in their market research. Chevy has never lived down the embarrassment from trying to sell the Nova in other markets. (In many romantic languages, "no va" literally means "no go".)

Interestingly, the new Treo 650 sports "23MB user-available stored non-volatile memory", but no native flash drive capability mentioned yet. Something to look forward to in a forthcoming Treo? Sounds great as long as palmOne doesn't continue to use their new math on the features list.

All in all, I think the changes in the T5 reflect the change in the standalone PDA market, which I've posted recently -- the sizzle of standalone PDAs has all but fizzled. If I'm going to spend $400-500 on a new PDA, then I'm going to buy a Treo, not a Tungsten. Thus while it's somewhat surprising to read the T5 lost its signature collapsible screen, which I really liked, I think it's a harbinger of things to come in the condensation of the standalone PDA market.

I also think palmOne missed the bullseye on the USB flash drive: Who wants to have to remember to carry a USB cable around in their pocket, even a Zip-Linq? I realize the T5 is probably too heavy to embed a slide-out USB connector and have its full weight dangling from your PC's front-side USB jack. But if I had to carry the larger T5 and a USB cable, size-wise, isn't that worse than carrying the smaller T3 and a tiny thumb drive? I like the Palm/storage integration, but what good is it if I'm not carrying the darn cable? The beauty of having a small thumb drive is that it's always ready to use and it's so small and light that you don't even notice you're carrying it.

And I almost forgot: Where's the Wi-Fi? (Done in my best "Where's the Beef?" impression.) Message to mobile device developers: Integrated Wi-Fi is a big deal. RIM gets this. The forthcoming BlackBerry 7270 is rumored to incorporate both VoIP and WLAN support. Yes, it affects battery life. But you know what? We know that. Give us some decent power management tools, a tiny portable charger, and we'll decide when to use Wi-Fi, okay? What do you think we've been doing with laptops?

It must be that "fuzzy math" again...

Topic(s):   Mobile Tech & Gadgets
Posted by Jeff Beard