Should Apple plant a Palm?

by Fraser Speirs

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I read an interesting opinion piece this morning in the Boston Herald. In summary, the author suggested that Apple should buy Palm and move the future of the iPod in the direction of a more fully-featured PDA. Now, I'm a mobile guy. I travel frequently for work and I always carry the following items: my 17" PowerBook, my 20Gb 4G iPod, my Nokia 6630 and my HP iPaq 4700. If I'm going somewhere nice, I'll pack my Canon EOS350D as well.

Would I like to lighten this load? Of course I would. Would I like Apple to produce a PDA? Absolutely. Would I like Apple to buy Palm? No.

I mentioned that I used an iPaq. Why did I buy a Windows Mobile device? Because I needed a portable electronic diary and I could see very little difference between the Palm OS I used in 1999 on my Palm IIIx and the Palm OS of today. By contrast, the Windows Mobile OS seemed to offer more in every department. However, let's be clear on one thing here: The PDA ownership experience on Mac OS X stinks. I don't like owning a Windows Mobile device - the third-party sync tools don't inspire confidence and as a result I just don't sync the iPaq.

One only has to look at the iPod to see the great job that Apple can do when they provide the end-to-end experience. iSync is good, but it's often the non-Apple end that lets it down. If I could have the iPod experience in a PDA for Christmas, well, wouldn't that be something to get excited about?

Device Convergence

I'd love an Apple PDA, but I remain a huge sceptic about device convergence. As I see it, there are three issues that convergence is designed to solve: object bulk, charger multiplication and interoperability.

Let's talk about object bulk. When I was visiting a friend in San Francisco this year, I compared my gadget bundle with his. I piled up my 20Gb 4G iPod and my Nokia 6630 - my music player, camera and phone. My friend pulled out his iPod nano, his Motorola RAZR and his Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX7 camera. Yes, my music player had a larger capacity but it was also significantly bigger. When you look at some other converged devices - for example, some of the Windows smartphones - the difference is even more interesting. Yes, they're PDAs too, but my point is that device convergence doesn't necessarily solve the bulk problem - it simply consolidates it into one bigger lump instead of two or three smaller ones.

As a traveller, I hate the problem of remembering to pack every charger for every device. The rule seems to be the more devices, the more chargers. I'm very optimistic, however, that technologies like the Splashpower recharging pads will start to become more commonplace and multiple devices will all recharge from a single source. I would love a Splashpower pad built into my car's dashboard!

Finally, interoperability. This remains a problem crying out to be solved elegantly. Bluetooth is the obvious infrastructure for getting all these devices to talk to one another, but the challenge remains in getting discovery, pairing and data sharing to become a smooth and understandable process for most users.

All that said, as a next step, I'll take that Apple PDA!

Want more mobile Apple?


2005-12-19 06:41:09
I agree that I don't want to see Apple buy Palm. I know I'll get flamed for this, but Palm is in trouble, and I don't see much upside in Apple taking on their problems when they're doing well in other areas. The last thing Apple needs is a distraction from their core competencies or to try spreading out in too many directions at the same time.

I'm sure you'll get a lot of e-mails suggesting you look at MarkSpace's products.

Still, I'd love to see a PDA the size of an iPod, with 4g of flash memory.

2005-12-19 09:42:26
iPod with simple input capability
I would simply want Apple to add the ability to check things off the todo list rather then just view your todo list, such that when you sync your nano your ical todos are updated. With the exception of 15" of powerbook I travel as light as possible... it would just be nice if Apple would take advantage of the technology they already ship let alone invent or procure new technology.
2005-12-19 10:35:02
Apple Tablet
What I would really, really like to see is an Apple tablet. Something like 12x10 inch and all screen. Wireless, flash, USB, Firewire, and all that. I would like to plug it into my desktop via firewire in Target mode so I can transfer files.

For me, this would be the perfect device. I could plug a USB keyboard into it for typing. I could take it on the road. It's big enough to read stuff. It's big enough to work with. It's not too big to fit in my back pack.

I also want it for under $1000. I would think it would be cheaper to build. It's just a screen and motherboard. Of course it's a touch screen, but it should still be cheaper than the iBook.

Apple already has hand writing recognition. They have voice commands. This would be the perfect computer for me. Make it like 2GHz and 1GB RAM. I don't need a big HDD, so 20GB/40GB would do.

I've been waiting for this for about 15 years since I first seen the Compaq tablet way back when I was in school.

Maybe I should buy a tablet PC and install a hacked Intel OSX on it?...

2005-12-19 10:47:15
iPod with simple input capability
Hi Mark,

Yes, if the iPod could check off to-dos, that would be half my iPod-as-PDA wishlist taken care of. The other half would be a LOUD alarm (I'm forgetful!) - the little beep is pitiful.

Some data input would be nice too :-)


2005-12-19 10:48:59
Palm's got it
Palm "LifeDrive" -- is just that -- 4gigs, filesystem support (so no massive failures just because the battery died or the system did a reboot for no reason -- palms worst failing was not fixing that when flash memory got cheap), built in bluetooth and 802.11b.

on the pricey-side, of course, but at 4 gig you'd be paying almost $350 just for the flash memory at current rates.

2005-12-19 10:51:42
Apple Tablet
I can see the attraction of a tablet for reading data off - my main use-case is always some detail of trip planning whilst on the move through airports.

That said, I wouldn't like to have to pack an external keyboard. I'm so keyboard-oriented for input, but I'm definitely keen to see new modes of read-oriented use for portables. Maybe fold-back form factors.

2005-12-19 20:23:36
Better isync support
I would like better isync support for devices from Apple. I had an iPaq but gave up on syncing it with my Powerbook and I don't even carry it anymore since I bought a Nokia 9300. It does calendar, contacts, and notes for me and I can sync it via iSync with a hack. It should be support out of the box though. I don't know if I should blame Nokia or Apple ;-)

A tablet would be interesting but it would really have to be small, durable, great battery life, and hw recognition would have to be spot on. Hard to see that coming by in a package priced right.

A PDA would be nice. They could do a lot just by changing the iPod concept some, and if Motorola got their act together and produced something useful after the Rokr disaster perhaps we have something. I'm not going to give up carrying a mobile phone but I also need some PDA functions, so I want an all-in-one device. I would still carry around the Powerbook too much though.

2005-12-20 12:14:07
Remember, Palm's got a partnership with Microsoft to produce a Treo running Windows Mobile:

I think that "deal with the devil" negates any serious speculation of Apple buying them. ;-)

2005-12-20 14:08:16
Apple Tablet
A tablet could be a comfortable output device but I'm also heavily keyboard-oriented for input so for now that I/O combination keeps me using my iBook, albeit heavier than it need be solely for that purpose. A more ideal device would retain the advantages of larger-screen readability and still have a decent keyboard for longer text compositions (e.g. on weblogs like this). Is there an external (folding?) keyboard that's portable and convenient enough? Maybe, but any awkwardness would make it resist usage.

When portability is the main concern my Tungsten T|E2 serves me well enough for the kind of input/output it's capable of. For input, I've been using its Note Pad app to scribble quick notes more often than Memos and Graffiti. Later, I can sync with the Note Pad desktop app where it's easier to transcribe any notes I want saved as text. For output, it's typical PIM stuff (with basic "checkoff" input) and misc. database lookups (e.g. movie ratings/reviews while at the video store, particularly handy when it's a mutual choice with my wife). And it plays music so I can live without an iPod (just the headphones are another dongle). So, in my personal "small is best" contexts even a tablet seems more than necessary.

Misc points:

I've become less of a convergence skeptic since some of my compromises in that direction for simplicity's sake would seem hypocritical.
I've managed without a mobile phone (certainly inconvenient at times) but expect it to be a factor in my future portable device choices.
I've consciously resisted a lifestyle that's too much of a slave to battery life. (Thanks for the Splashpower link; looks interesting!)

I could be tempted by a semi-convergent Apple device (phone included?) that's somewhere between an iPod (or PDA) and a notebook PC. It would have to be sufficiently more useful alternative in certain situations than what I have now rather than being a complete replacement. For me an iPod is sort of like a crippled PDA, without enough advantages to be either an alternative to or a replacement for it.