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In-Depth: The Treo 650 Memory Debate

Here I was, relatively content to have put the issue of "only 32MB of memory on the Treo 650" to rest, when to my dismay I find out a few days ago that the new Non-Volatile File System (NVFS) implemented by palmOne on the Treo 650 actually further reduces the amount of memory available to the user when compared to the Treo 600.  The issue has been brewing (some say raging) on a number of forums this weekend as well as featuring on Slashdot yesterday and I am pretty certain that it will spill over to a wider audience shortly.

I do not want to enter into the nitty gritty and relatively complex technical details of NVFS but would instead like to focus on the wider consumer and business considerations and why I believe that palmOne made a mistake when it decided not to upgrade the memory on the Treo 650 to 64MB.  Let me therefore explain the current memory issue with the Treo 650 as briefly as I can.

For those Treonauts not familiar with NVFS - simply called Flash memory - it is a system that continuously backs up your data and permanently stores it so that even if your Treo battery runs down completely you will not lose any data.  As anyone who has ever lost data on their Palm powered device will attest, NVFS is certainly very long overdue and now a welcome new feature - lack of which I believe has cost palmOne significant sales in the past.  It is without a doubt that NVFS constitutes a massive improvement over previous devices which makes its association with the memory issue all the more disappointing.

As I mentioned, the Treo 650 comes with 32MB of memory of which 23MB is 'user-available' (the other 9MB is reserved for system files) and the Treo 600 is exactly the same story.  However, because the NVFS on the Treo 650 stores any data under 512 bytes in full 512 byte chuncks it means that both applications and particularly databases (including your contacts) will now typically use up some 30% more of your available memory.  The practical side of this is that existing users will have 30% less memory to use when compared to the Treo 600 thus bringing the 'true' user-available memory down to only 16MB.

So who will be affected by this?  Some people have argued that the only ones who will suffer are a minority of 'power users' who have 'too many installed applications' but I strongly disagree with this view as some Treo 650 owners have reported maxing their memory with as few as five applications which hardly qualifies them as power users.  Yet others have quite rightly pointed out that the mere fact of owning a Treo by definition makes you a power user.  It is therefore becoming evident that anybody who would like to have the freedom to exploit the full potential of their Treo 650 is affected.  As it stands, this freedom has been seriously curtailed.

I am pretty convinced from a number of comments made to me that palmOne's rationale for limiting the memory to 32MB was that its market research demonstrated that a majority of its users only had a few applications installed and would therefore have no use for additional memory.  This is a bit like a research team presenting Ferrari's board members with a chart demonstrating that drivers of its supercars actually only average speeds of about 55MPH and then recommending that the company's next car have a maximum speed of only 100MPH...  I can just picture the speed at which that research team would be flying out of the boardroom window.

The entire issue with the memory must now stand as one of the worst kind of business rationalizations that I have  come across and may be a strong and very sad indication that bean counters are now running palmOne.  The fact is that what this will in turn achieve is for prospective buyers of the Treo 650 to consider making their purchase in a highly 'rational' manner which will slow and reduce overall sales.  It really should not be that difficult for the company to realize that selling a $600 phone no matter how 'smart' it is will be made a hundred times easier if the product can appeal to people's emotions - our decision to buy should be an absolute no-brainer.

While being aware of the situation, palmOne has thus far been rather dismissive of the whole issue arguing that SD card storage has now become so cheap that considerations for additional on-board memory are not that relevant.  This kind of attitude leads me to believe that the company is strongly - if not completely - disconnected from its customer base.  Not upgrading the memory to 64MB was a poor business decision and as I am not known to suffer fools gladly you'll have to forgive some of my disparaging remarks.

It is true that while SD cards are great for storing files (I personally have 2.5GB for movies, music, ebooks, audio programs and the like) they are for many reasons however simply not adequate for running applications.  Again, not wanting to enter into long technical discussions let me just say that neither palmOne nor PalmSource have fully addressed this matter nor provided users with the tools to properly manage applications running from an SD card.  At the same time not many developers have implemented their programs in such a way that they can actually be run from a card and figuring out which programs can or can't further adds to the user burden. 

Furthermore, from a competitive standpoint it should be evident that palmOne has much to gain from users installing as many additional applications as possible on their Treo.  This will increase both loyalty to the platform and long-term switching costs thus securing much needed future revenues from a strong installed base.  Also, while competing smart phones can match the phone, email, SMS and browsing capabilities of the Treo they currently cannot offer anywhere near the breadth of applications available to Palm powered devices.  However, a low average number of applications installed on the Treo will be indicative of an inability on the part of palmOne to fully exploit this advantage.

I am extremely disappointed and frustrated that the consumer appeal for such an absolutely incredible smart phone as the Treo 650 should in any way be limited or diminished by something as banal as its memory.  Like many, I am still completely dumbfounded trying to comprehend why palmOne did not just upgrade the memory to 64MB in the first place as everybody had anticipated - particularly in light of the many benefits that would accrue to the company. 

The only thing holding the Treo 650 back from achieving true 'greatness' now is the memory issue.  palmOne should acknowledge this fact quickly, upgrade the memory to 64MB and make sure that in the future it listens less to its 'market researchers' and quite a lot more to its avid and passionate followers who have no other wish than to see the company develop the best products in the world and succeed beyond people's wildest expectactions.  Alternatively it can do nothing, continue to alienate its most devout customers and we'll then have to painfully watch as the company squanders yet another category defining opportunity that it created.  Treonauts cannot and will not let this happen.

[Via TreoCentral Forum and Slashdot.  Also Red Mercury for a good overview of NVFS.]

UPDATE: Take the Treo Memory Survey and learn more about how current and prospective Treonauts feel about this issue.

Treonauts are more outspoken... 

Posted by Andrew on November 22, 2004 at 08:34 AM

Treo 650

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by Roscoe | Nov 22, 2004 10:24:28 AM

I agree with your comment about the issue changing the buy decision from 'Emotional' to 'Rational'. I was waiting on Treo 650 from my cellular service for my next phone upgrade. At this point, I am disappointed and will wait and keep my eye on the Samsung/BenQ phones.

by PJ Arts | Nov 22, 2004 11:50:44 AM

So, Andrew...tell us how you really feel!

Like you, I have been reading the forums and articles regarding this...especially in light of the imminent delivery of MY T650. However, the overwhelming majority of posts and articles I read were by people who DID NOT OWN A TREO 650 THEMSELVES. This is not to say there isn't an issue...only to say that the people stirring up this ruckus seem to be the usual 'geekboys' with nothing better to do. I will wait until I get my device, test it, and send you the results. I am definitely a 'power' user and will be able to see any effects right away.

Stay tuned, true believers!

by rbienstock | Nov 22, 2004 11:58:12 AM

You say "Again, not wanting to enter into long technical discussions let me just say that neither palmOne nor PalmSource have fully addressed this matter nor provided users with the tools to properly manage applications running from an SD card. At the same time not many developers have implemented their programs in such a way that they can actually be run from a card and figuring out which programs can or can't further adds to the user burden." Isn't this precisely what NVFS is designed to do? Doesn't the same functionality of the new file system that moves files from the onboard flash RAM into normal RAM, work the same way with programs stored in SD flash RAM? I thought that was the an essential point of NVFS and that now, under the new system, all RAM is created equal. This is certainly the implication of the primer from Red Mercury.

by antmelnat | Nov 22, 2004 12:19:46 PM

My guess is that palm1 knows exactly what they are doing here. I think the 650 will be their entry-level Treo once the 600 is discontinued. They have put their mark into the Handspring model, making it what it should have been from the start.

For a non-power user, which the majority of Treo owners will be, 16-20MB is more than enough for running the basic PIM functions, occational email and attachment viewing and some mp3 listening off the SD card.

I can only hope they will soon release their "Family" of Treo's to keep their loyal power-users happy.

by ash | Nov 22, 2004 12:46:40 PM


I completely agree with your point. I have been reading about this issue on other boards and most of the people who are bashing Treo 650 seem to not have one yet!!!
I also don't believe that this is such a big issue, this issue is not crippling T650. Also I believe P1 might have made their decision to not upgrade the memory based on some technical issues that we are not aware of, such as power consumption or chip design, and basically they have made a trade of based on their research from "majority" of their users, rather than few percentage of their power users. JMHO

by CPADave | Nov 22, 2004 1:36:04 PM

Perhaps the GSM model will come out with 64M! Another good reason to wait...

by BeSerious | Nov 22, 2004 1:53:11 PM

PJ Arts - umm. Gee, I wonder why most the people discussing the issue don't have a Treo 650 . . . Maybe because no one does? (with some exceptions, which is how we know that only 16mb will actually be user-available)

antmelnat - "For a non-power user, which the majority of Treo owners will be . . ." Are you serious? Yeah, I guess your right, the normal "non-power" user commonly spends $500 on the supposed top-of-the-line smartphone. . .

People who buy smartphones are the people who dont want to carry around both a phone and a pda. The point is for the smartphone to replace both, however, with only 16mb readily avaible, it cannot be considered a replacement for any PDA.

by antmelnat | Nov 22, 2004 2:29:54 PM

BeSerious- " Are you serious? Yeah, I guess your right, the normal "non-power" user commonly spends $500 on the supposed top-of-the-line smartphone. . .

They do, if their company buys it for them. As for it costing $500, the price always drops after the initial offering and contract incentives.

by 650guy | Nov 22, 2004 2:55:28 PM

I'm confused about this site. On the left nav, we have a post called "Why the Treo is the best smartphone in the world." Today we have a screed about the memory problem.

Question to the blogger - Do you have a production version of the 650 or are your impressions (good and bad) based on your time with a pre-production unit and what you've read in other places?

Please clarify. Until we know that, it's very hard to process where your raves/outrage are coming from.


by Tim | Nov 22, 2004 3:03:15 PM

I have had my 650 since saturday morning, and though it does seem to eat up more memory than other Palm PDAs I've owned, I don't know how much of a difficulty this will cause people. I think if you organize your applications and files well between the device memory and the SD card, you shouldn't have too much of a problem.

I've got quite a few apps on my 650, and it's fine. Still have about 10MBs left. How many apps do you really use at a time anyway?

by Jonathan Greene | Nov 22, 2004 3:13:27 PM

Tim - I agree with you and think after living with my 600 and considering myself a Power User, that it will in fact be much less of an issue than it seems.


by Thomas | Nov 22, 2004 3:53:20 PM

Jonathan - what you describe as having done with your Treo 600 ie: being highly selective about which applications you install is exactly the type of restrictions that people should absolutely NOT have to go through with P1's top-of-the-line product. That's OK for kiddies playing with the Zire 31 but not for the Treo 650. I want to be able to do whatever I want with it.

by PJ Arts | Nov 22, 2004 3:55:57 PM


There are rules of courtesy at Treonauts, which you seem to be unaware of. If you have a point to make, then please do so...without the geekboy smirk and personal insults. This is a site for people of like mind, looking for an open exchange or ideas or debate. Flaming and personal pique don't belong here.

Try taking a more positive approach, and contributing something to the general discussion. You'll be a better man for it, and your contributions will be welcome.

by MikeW | Nov 22, 2004 4:28:28 PM

Was planning on getting one -- no way now until Palm fixes this.. Or maybe I'll get PPC alternative.

by IcemanMN | Nov 22, 2004 5:12:25 PM

The suggestion that the only people complaining about the memory issue don't have a Treo 650 is simply not true. Item 1, a somewhat successful workaround has been found and posted as a sticky at Treo Central. The workaround is, to purchase ZLauncher and use it to install most of your applications (programs AND data) on your SD card. The PalmOne solution is to store your data on the SD card and your application programs in flash memory, but this apparently is not enough. Item 2, power users with large numbers of contacts are reporting that it is not possible to install their full contact list on the 650. This is due to the simple math that each contact now requires at least 512 bytes of memory. 512 bytes x large # of contacts = contact list uses up most of the available memory. And item 3, Palm One has acknowledged that there is a serious problem, and has asked for a few days so they can consider what solution they will offer. I am hopeful that they will be able to figure out how to efficiently store data in flash memory, but I fear this won't be possible without additional time-consuming development and testing. I think upgrading the memory to 64 MB is the most straightforward hardware solution, but the mind boggles at the cost of recalling all of the Treo 650's now in the distribution pipeline so that the memory can be upgraded.

by Al Karel | Nov 22, 2004 8:35:13 PM

As a 600 user waiting a bit on the 650, I will SURELY WILL NOT BUY a 650 until Palm fixes this memory problem.

I have a huge series of contacts and have always loved loading on apps.


Xiino browser, Golf score program, Big Clock, PTunes Deluxe, SMS Software, books stored on TealDoc, Strip Clock, Splash Photo, Zagat Restaurant surveys, Eudora e-mail, Qset, RealPlayer, SoundRec, Movie Guide, PdaNet, Pocket Chess, DayNotez, external keyboard, DIDDLEBUG, Grouper and FakeCall. They all work fine on my 600. Give em up or limit them: NO WAY!

by ojleblanc | Nov 22, 2004 9:55:19 PM

I completely agree with your comments.

I've been waiting to upgrade from my Tungsten C to the Treo 650 b/c of the Treo 600's lo-res screen and small amount of memory. I simply cannot understand why they made the decision to give the T|C 64MB but not the Treo 650, which is, in my opinion, in the same category in terms of being targeted to business/power users. If they could justify 64MB when the T|C was introduced, they can certinly justify it now! I *love* the fact that I no longer have to manage my PDA's internal memory like I had to do with my Sony NX70V, which had only 16MB of memory. Yes, I own a 256MB SD card, but this is for entertainment purposes only. I don't wish to routinely run applications on it. This entire issue makes me ask this question: Do PalmOne execs use their own products? I can't imagine them wanting to manage memory either, unless they are so in love with the built-in applications that they don't install other ones.

by Jonathan Greene | Nov 23, 2004 12:00:13 AM

I am limiting, but only based on my own usage, not really based on what I just want to have lying around. And for those I just want to have lying around, I can easily use the SD card... as I mentioned in my own post - Initiate works great at seeing and using any app on the card and you can launch them with ease.

I don't want to limit myself at all, I've just recently taken a more practical approach to things and cleared off the stuff I am keeping "just in case."

by Saul Leibow | Nov 23, 2004 2:08:45 AM

what baffles me is Palm1one's future depends on Convergence, they are loosing the PDA wars to MS.

With that in mind why would they leave themselves open to critcisim and lost sales..many, I returned my T650 today to Sprint. Hopefully P1's "lose of memory" will be fixed by the time the GSM versions ar released

by Fred | Nov 23, 2004 2:42:41 AM

I've read what you all say and I have to put in my own two cents. No, I don't have a 650, but I was planning to buy one, probably when they come out here in Europe, which will be . . . who knows when. But not if I have to deal with 16 MB of memory.
I know from my Tungsten T that 16 MB is just not enough. And the memory card isn't an acceptable solution because as you know, even if you have programs on the card, you need enough free memory on the Palm to open and run them. And they take a long time to open up each time. A very long time.
My take on all of this is that Palm is planning for the next model, which will have WiFi and more memory. I mean hasn't PalmOne been saying that they're planning a 'new family of smartphones'? If they put more memory in the 650, how will they come out with a better model to sell to people after the 650? Just because of WiFi or a better camera? Doesn't quite seem like enough. Conspiracy theory? Why not?!
If Palm can upgrade the 650's to 64 or even 32 MB, then I'll buy one the first chance I get. If not, well, I guess I'll be waiting for the next model.

by Bryan T. | Nov 23, 2004 8:58:20 AM

The one thing that stuck out at me in this thread is the comment that palmOne has announced that the 650 is the beginning of a new family of smartphones.

Duh. The 650 is a stop-gap until they release these new phones. I'd be inclined to think that they are using the relatively stable Treo 600 as a launching point to integrate the new non-volatile memory. Palm doesn't like revolutionary design changes - most of their releases are evolutionary. The 650 is basically a proof-of-concept for them for the new memory.

With that being said, I have no idea how they got to this point without realizing that the 512 byte sectors was going to be a problem. It seems like once "real users" got their hands on the phone, it was discovered within moments.

The bottom line? I really appreciate all the 650 buyers financing palmOne's Treo expansion. I will wait for the next generation.

I could be wrong, too.

by Tim | Nov 23, 2004 9:22:58 AM

I love this thing. I don't have a problem with the memory yet. But I really only use BankBook, a few games, TealPaint, and the Leonardo drawing program. My 512mb card holds image files and mp3s.

What I have found, is a great solution for a case for the 650 (or 600). Much better than Palm's own case, and probably better than all but the vaja i-volution cases. Apple's standard case for the iPod works perfectly for your Treo. I have the one for my 40GB iPod, and it fits snugly, not too tight. Offers screen protection and top loading (as opposed to horizontal loading). Looks good, and you can even access the headphone port through the opening in the bottom. I was going to order another case, but this is perfect!

by Martin | Nov 23, 2004 11:10:53 AM

I'm getting the impression that I am not the only person who looked forward to the release of the 650, but has been more than a little disappointed. For a device that costs $600, people have a right to expect something closer to the state of the art. But Treo has decided to skimp on memory, which for people who need to keep big contact lists makes the 650 the equivalent of an early-generation PDA. Worse still, by forgetting to include WiFi capability, it has created a device that riht out of the box is pretty much obsolete as an on-the-road web-browsing tool. What's up with that? Maybe PalmOne should ask HP about the importance of connectivity in devices intended to free users from roadblocks to the information superhighway.

by Craig | Nov 23, 2004 11:53:58 AM

Intel recalled a bazillion Pentium chips with a math bug that almost nobody would ever notice. Many think it was one of the smartest things Andy Grove did. Palm executives are watching their potentially market leading product get slammed into an also ran by not clearly and definitively addressing this problem. Issue a statement TODAY that says that as soon as a fix (read memory upgraded model) is available, all 650 owners will be welcomed to a free upgrade. Problem solved. The actual low-impact business users will use their phones and see no reason to upgrade. The real or wanna-be power users will purchase the 650 now (rather than wait or buy an alternative) and then upgrade later. Palm clearly is betting the farm on the treo (ie if the 650 fails the company is once-again-on-the-brink.). They CANNOT let $6 worth of memory take them down - unless they really are as stupid as they now look.

by Brent | Nov 23, 2004 1:13:03 PM

I was one of the first in my area to rush out and buy the Treo 600 when it first came out. There were problems with it, most notably the email didn't work at all. "Luckily" the device began to malfunction a few months later and Sprint replaced it with one which works great. So my take on this is that I'm not going to rush out and upgrade to the Treo 650 right away. I'll keep on using the 600 and wait to see what happens with the 650 and what is the final general consensus about it. I know that my experience cost PalmOne a second Treo 600 sale: instead I purchased the Hitachi G1000 which runs Pocket PC Phone 2002. I don't love Microsoft's clunky OS, but the screen is great, the camera far better than the Treo 600, and it hasn't broken yet! It could be that RIM or Microsoft will be getting my next purchase dollars too when my Treo 600 bites the dust. That would suck, but I can't keep rewarding PalmOne for being... careless. Regarding memory in the 650, why don't they do 128 MB with option to mount as a drive on a PC like with the T5? I don't get it, and I've never liked the "research says you don't need it" response from ANY company!

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