Palm should be in the process of finalizing their next generation mobile hardware and software. Here is what I will be looking for in my next smartphone.
While I like the current Treo form factor, it has become a tired design that needs to be refreshed. My next smartphone needs to have a nice clean design that provides easy access to hardware buttons while slimming down the body of the phone. For many shoppers, looks trump function and Palm’s devices need to look good and work well. The new Palm Treo Pro is an example of what new hardware from Palm needs to look like. To help with the miniaturization of the Treo, Palm has already embraced changes already implemented by other smartphone vendors. Palm has adopted microSDHC cards as the new storage card format. Palm has also begun to replace the large Multi-Connector found on the Centro with a miniUSB port that has been implemented on the Treo Pro and BlackBerry Curve. Making the display flush with the rest of the face of the phone is another tool for slimming down the device.
What I would like to see in future smartphones is more internal memory, standardization on 802.llg Wi-Fi, a digital camera with a flash, and the implementation of Sprint’s Wi-Max. Palm also needs to work on correcting motherboard-manufacturing defects that plague the headphone jack and microphone.
Cool looking hardware is important. Software that works the first time, every time is essential. The software that will power Palm’s next generation hardware, Palm OS II/Nova, will either make or break the company. The direction that Palm is taking their Palm OS products is going to be for consumers and small business owners who don’t want the complexity of Windows Mobile. Palm will be required to step up their game to complete in this market space.
In their new OS, Palm needs to overhaul the software that customers will listen to music and watch video. These features have been around on Palm devices for a long time, however, it has been far too difficult for customers to get content into their phones. I would like to see Palm work with the developer community to enhance the multimedia software offering. Palm should be exploring partnerships with Amazon, Sling, TiVo, and Netflix to simplify the process or loading or steaming entertainment content to smartphones.
Palm’s Contacts, Calendar, Tasks, and Memos applications, collectively know as personal information management (PIM) applications, are well regarded by customers. Synchronizing that data to a Palm OS smartphone needs to be redesigned. A trip into any of the popular discussion forums, 1SRc.com, Brighthand.com, TreoCentroal.com, and event Palm’s own Community Help Forums, will reveal no end of trouble with the HotSync Manager.
The lack of a wired 64-bit Windows USB sync driver has plagued Windows Vista users for well over a year now. Setting up a Bluetooth serial connection is too complicated for novice users. The Palm Desktop software lacks some of the fields available on the device (Anniversary, Middle Name, Name Suffix), and OLERR data sync errors are too common and difficult to troubleshoot. Wireless data synchronization is one way to reduce the amount of difficulty customer’s experience. The cloud based solution that I have talked about previously in the editorial "Up In the Air" would by pass driver issues on Macintosh and Windows PCs, eliminate the configuration issues with Bluetooth serial ports, leverage the wireless capabilities of the smartphone, and provide data access from any Internet connected computer.
I would also like to see Palm enhance their third-party software delivery system. In “Palm Needs an App Store”, I talked about how Palm has not maximized their partnerships with Bluefish Wireless and PocketGear. The current process of finding, downloading, and installing software is not well understood by many customers. The model that Apple has put forward is the new standard of how the Zen of Palm should be applied to installing software. And did I mention new application delivery should be done over the air? Wires are so last century.
Lastly, any new mobile operating system needs to continue to promote the easy of use and flexibility that has become part of the Palm corporate DNA. People love the Palm OS because of its ease of use. Palm OS II/Nova should build on that user experience with a new customizable, modern look and feel. The user interface (UI) should also be modular. By using a modular UI, Palm could reuse the core operating system in other new products, such as a mobile Internet device (MID), and only have to spend time and money developing a new UI. Apple is doing something similar with Mac OS X on their system software on their Macs and the iPhone and iPod touch.
Palm has been a player in the mobile computing space for a long time. A number of bad business decisions in the late 1990’s have caused the company to lose their leadership position. The changes at Palm that have been made over the last 18 months as part of their People, Design, and Platform have been encouraging. The Centro has been a huge success with consumers and first-time smartphone owners.
Palm needs to continue to press their advances with a new operating system, devices (smartphones and mobile Internet devices), and new, innovating software that continues the tradition of the Zen of Palm.