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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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My Top 10 list of things to fix for the next-gen Treo/Palm platform.

Posted by Michael Brown on March 21, 2008

I’m no David Letterman, but here’s my Top 10 list of things Palm needs to fix in order to have a successful Next Generation Palm OS platform. Many of them apply to other manufacturers in the smartphone space, so it wouldn’t be a bad idea for them to pay heed; otherwise, they might not be laughing later on. So, heeeeere we go!

10. Consistant API’s between models in a product family. Here’s where Palm has been really blowing it the last few years. Many standard features were implemented in different ways on different Treo models. That just frustrates developers, and makes the end-user experience inconsistent. Imagine being a programmer and having to write code like this:


Function FlashStatusLed
If Treo650 Then
DoItThisWay
Else If Treo680 Then
WorkAroundOsBug
DoItThatWay
Else If Treo755p Then
DoItAnotherWay
End Function

Would you want to spend time writing code for each and every model in a product family, or would you rather write code for another platform that didn’t have those issues? That’s not to say that platforms like Windows Mobile and Blackberry don’t have their own problems, but generally, stuff from the same manufacturer/product family works the same way.

9. The Bluetooth A2DP (Stereo music headphone) profile should be built-in). Come on, $50 feature phones have it, so why should Treo owners who’ve already paid big bucks for their smartphone have to fork out extra for 3rd party additions to get the same functionality?

8. A USB connector with USB host capability. We’d like to be able to use our handheld computers/smartphones with printers, flash drives, digital cameras, and USB keyboards. Generic device and printer drivers
should come installed, with the option to download specific ones Over-The-Air or at the next HotSync, based on information the system gets from the USB id’s of the peripherals. USB On-the-Go could be a good way to go; one connector that changes modes depending on what device is hooked up to it.

And pleeeeeease, use industry standard USB mini connectors and not something proprietary! I personally have gone through the Palm III series, the not-so-aptly named “Universal Connector” on my Tungsten T, the Treo 600, and now the “Athena Connector” used on Treo’s and TX’s, and had to change peripherals and cables/chargers FOUR times now. In the future, I’m not buying anything else that doesn’t use USB or Bluetooth for connectivity – PERIOD! (I might make an exception for a Linux Powered Treo that uses the existing Athena Connector, since I already have the stuff).

7. Wi-Fi and better Bluetooth. Windows Mobile and Blackberries have Wi-Fi and so does the iPhone, so Palm needs to have it too if they want to stay competitive. Wi-Fi is everywhere now, and it makes more sense to use it for streaming applications than using the Carrier’s wireless, especially in places (like Canada) where we either don’t have unlimited data plans, or they’re prohibitively expensive. Bluetooth should be upgraded to a more reliable driver stack, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, and should include the profiles people want to use like A2DP, file transfer, BT printing and wireless input like keyboards and even mice! People use their mobile devices in different ways, so they should have the freedom to use it the way they want without having to search for other software to give them the “Out of box” experience they’re expecting. Mobile computing is becoming commonplace, and some people want a familiar “desktop feel” for working with their mobile devices. If it means including generic drivers for keyboards and mice, it’s a small price to pay to include it if it helps generate more sales and a better user experience.

6. Extensible PIM apps with a Real API! Sorry, Palm, but the DataMangler (uh DataManager) patch doesn’t count! People have Instant Messengers, e-mail, and SMS/MMS as means of communicating, as well as regular cell phone and now VOIP calling capabilities on handhelds. They don’t want to have to keep their contacts in a a half dozen different applications. The PIM apps should use an extensible database system to keep all that information in one place. Something like a light-weight SQL database that can be extended. Access has done this right by using sqlite as their PIM database engine in ALP.

The PIMS should allow for linking between the various applications. Many people want to see appointments involving or linking to a certain contact or group of people. Hierarchical tasks are also something that many people want, giving them the ability to do lightweight project management on their handhelds. Custom views are also something people want; it’s their information, let them see it the way it makes sense to them. And most important, stick to the Zen of Palm; fast, intuitive, and easy to use.

5. Better power management and battery life. Granted, my Treo 650 is two years old now, and both my batteries have seen a lot of use, but I HAVE to charge my device daily if I want to get through the day (and always have since I bought it). My wife’s Blackberry Curve goes for several days without needing a charge, and that’s with it receiving e-mail throughout the day and night. I don’t get e-mail via the carrier’s network, just the phone and SMS, and I can’t make
it past 16 hours; some days it’s flat after 10 hours. It’s gotta be better than that if you want to compete with other handheld manufacturers.

Models like the 680 and the Centro have been repeatably criticized for their lack of battery life when compared to other products. With the Linux kernel, power management should be better, especially if they implement “on-demand” CPU management. When the system is idle, like waiting for input or “sleeping” with the screen off, the system can automatically under-clock the processor, and then ramp it back up when it’s needed. For example, I wrote this post using PsMemo into the Memo’s database. Even if I’m typing fast, I’m still not taxing the CPU running at 312 MHz; it would be the exact same user experience as it was on my old IIIx running at 33 MHz. While there is all sorts of software available for the Palm platform that will under/overclock based on what applications are running, this really should be an Operating System function, and not something people have to find on their own and buy. This betters the out-of-box experience, improves performance and battery life, and when properly implemented into the OS leads to increased…

4. Stability! This has been a problem with recent handhelds, especially the 700p. Palm OS Garnet doesn’t have memory protection, so badly written applications can walk all over another app, causing a crash. Combine that with the dbcache and NVFS problems on newer units, and that has some people’s units crashing or resetting several times a day. End users won’t understand why, they’ll just say the thing is crap and move to another platform. The next generation Palm OS (from Palm Inc.) is supposed to be based on Linux, which will solve a lot of these problems. The key to success, though, will be the compatibility layer, which will allow the Garnet applications to run on the Linux kernel. Not much info has come from Palm about their layer, but a fair bit is known about Accesses’ ALP. Both companies and any manufacturers using ALP should be aware that many new sales will be based on the fact that people will want to run their favourite Palm OS applications on the new device, so the compatibility layer needs to be as stable and robust as the underlying Linux OS. Again, end-users won’t care **why** something doesn’t work; if it doesn’t work or isn’t stable and reliable, they’ll just say it’s crap and go somewhere else.

3. Listen to your customers, not just the carriers! Carriers like to “customize” devices before they go on the market. In some cases, they’ve removed functionality in order to reduce their support costs, or to force the end-user to use pricey services.

Well, heeeelllllo! Wake up and smell the coffee! It’s 2008 and Ma Bell isn’t the only player in the game. With number portability becoming the norm, people are no longer tied to a particular carrier in order to keep their number. If a carrier wants to keep customers, then they need to provide value for money. End-users tell you what is of value to them, since they’re the ones that buy the phones and pay for the contracts. Ignore them at your peril (and that goes for the carriers too!)

2. Publicly acknowledge bugs, and Fix Them! Forums, mailing lists, and instant messengers were abuzz with issues from the Treo 700p, and even the 650 back in it’s day. And people are still ticked off about the stability issues of the 700p, and the lack of an update from Palm to fix them. There’s been class action lawsuits because of issues on Palm products, and these have resulted from Palm’s poor handling of bugs and hardware problems (and Palm isn’t alone in the industry in this respect). You’d think they’d learn by now…

If you want customer loyalty, show you’re trustworthy; fess up when you screw up, and fix it to the customer’s satisfaction. Whatever it costs to fix it will save you from losing customers (and gaining lawsuits!), will likely ensure those customers are repeat customers; it may even get you new ones. Generally, a happy customer tells 2 or 3 other people while an unhappy one tells on average 8-10 other people. These days with the Internet and all it’s possible soapboxes, one unhappy customer can tell large part of the world population!

1. Marketing and Advertising! It doesn’t matter if you have a superior product to the competition if nobody knows about it or has enough reasons to buy it! (Hmmm, remember Betamax?) There are whole magazines touting Windows Mobile products, MS Mobile TV commercials, Apple iPhone commercials and fanboy advertising, Blackberry TV and print ads, but where’s Palm? I haven’t seen any advertising for Palm in Canada in recent years; I can’t speak to other markets. Palm needs to get out there and advertise. Word of mouth helps lot too, so fix the other things on this top 10 list, and your happy customers will be your most successful sales force.

In the mean time, start targeting your advertising to your different market segments, and create hardware/software bundles that meet their needs. Don’t do it by staying in house; get out there and get some new blood, take some risks and be creative. Use focus groups of real, everyday people if you have too! Apple and the iPhone have set the new bar for creating a buzz for a product; either beat it, or go home.

YodaWith Palm’s stock price heading downward, and competition heating up, Palm Inc. can’t afford to go at this as they have in the past. To paraphrase Master Yoda, “Do or do not, there is no status quo”.

Originally posted to PalmAddicts here.

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2 Responses to “My Top 10 list of things to fix for the next-gen Treo/Palm platform.”

  1. Dana said

    I have two major changes I’d like to see:

    1) The ability to tag ToDo list items and calendar items with more than one category. This would allow sublist items in a project tags to show up in a context list where the task needs to be done. For instance, “buy streamers” is a “+Reunion” project item, but needs to be completed in the “@Errands” context. When I’m getting things done, I refer mainly to my context lists.

    2) The ability to have multiple calendars, each acting as an overlay. If arranged like Google Calendar, the Palm calendar would allow me to walk around with my local minor league baseball and soccer schedules without them cluttering up events on the calendar such as important meetings and appointments.

  2. Dana,

    I’d personally like to see multiple categories on all the built-in apps (Contacts, Tasks, Memo’s and Calendar events). Palm OS Cobalt (OS 6) was supposed to have that functionality, but it died when no manufacturers chose to license it. ALP may have it for native applications, but it won’t for Palm OS applications. It would really come down to what software manufacturers license, and how they configure them.

    If you want that functionality now, and you sync with Outlook, you can look at Chapura’s KeySuite or DataViz’s Beyond Contacts. They support Outlook’s categories field, where you can have multiple categories per item.

    The second you can have depending on your sync software, where you can sync Palm Calendar categories to separate calendars. On the Palm side, I would highly recommend DateBk6 from Pimlico Software, which I’ve been using since DateBk3. It allows you to have saved views where you can include or exclude categories and types of events. It’s a powerful organizational tool.

    Hope that helps!

    /Mike

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