February 8, 2005

Palm: How to Lose Fans and Alienate Developers

Filed under: ICANN — Wendy @ 8:20 am

As reported by Gizmodo, PalmOne has added $100 to the price of its unlocked Treo 650 GSM only a few days after releasing the product. Most likely, it did so under pressure from the cell phone carriers. I was lucky (or obsessive) enough to get my order in at the original price, but I’m less certain now that I’ll want the device when it arrives.

I was willing to pay a premium over the Cingular-locked-subsidized version, because I’m tired of the petty tyranny of cell-phone providers who want to control what users can do with devices they’ve bought. After dealing with the TMobile-constrained Sidekick, I wanted a device that was open and customizable. Once I’ve paid for the service, I should be able to choose what data to send and receive, and how to use it.

What PalmOne doesn’t seem to understand is that its customers are buying a platform, not just a phone. Those who buy the $400-600 Treo instead of a $100 phone (free with cell servitude) buy it for the rich set of applications available — many of them developed by other users.

I don’t develop for the PalmOS and probably never will, but I benefit from the “virtual network” around an open platform because I can add any of its array of third-party applications. Since every application written makes the platform (marginally) more functional, every developer who joins the network adds potential value. That value redounds to Palm — without any extra work on Palm’s part — because customers still need Palm hardware to take advantage of this “network.”

Raising the price of the full-functioned unlocked Treo turns away those user-developers. By making it more expensive for users to develop for the platform, Palm makes the device less attractive even to the non-developers. By alienating the “alpha-geeks,” in Tim O’Reilly’s term, Palm has hurt many more than the few hundred people who might have bought the unlocked Treo. It hurts every user of the platform, and its own bottom line. I hope I haven’t just bought a $600 paperweight.

3 Comments

  1. (Warning, rant inside…) Funny you should mention this. I just, less than a week ago, finally gave up on Palm OS devices. I still love the Palm OS. Love the software. I’ve burned through three misc. Palm OS devices over the years, as well as copious software and accessories. But the hardware has just been getting worse and worse and worse every year, and they’ve fallen further and further behind every year.

    As of now, there’s ONLY ONE palm OS device being shopped to the U.S. that has wifi, and that’s the hopeless tungsten C, with one of those horrible unusable mini keyboards, it’s huge, it’s ugly, it’s made out of the cheapest plastic imaginable, and it basically has no other frills.

    The last Palm OS device to come out to ship with interesting hardware features was the CLIE TH-55, but, oh, wait, Sony is no longer shipping them to the U.S. They’re selling for a good fifty bucks over MSRP, USED, on ebay now, and those Sony geniuses won’t sell ‘em themselves.

    I finally lost patience. For $350.00, I picked up a middle-of-the road HP Ipaq, getting wifi, AND bluetooth, and infared that actually has juice, and speakers that actually can be used to play something, and general structural soundness so that I can trust it not to fall apart after a year like my last Palm OS device (an older Clie) did. Cheaper than the Tungsten C, much cheaper than that idiotic new T5 abomination. Toss in a keyboard and a SD card, and for under five hundred bucks, I have a PDA that can handle every function that PDAs do well, and play a dozen cd’s worth of jazz mp3s on top. (Which for me means miles miles miles miles trane trane trane monk monk mingus ra dizz.)

    So I’ve finally turned to the dark side. Palm made me do it.

    Comment by Paul Gowder — February 11, 2005 @ 9:23 pm

  2. Ouch, There’s a Patent in my Palm!

    The new Treo arrived, and apart from some SIM and Cingular issues, seems to work well. It seems that software patents have stopped it from being even better, though. The Treo keyboard is very good, for something with chiclet keys,…

    Trackback by Copyfight — February 20, 2005 @ 4:12 pm

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