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Competition on our Trail

A few days ago Verizon Wireless launched the Samsung i730 smartphone which Walt Mossberg then reviewed in his Personal Technology column.  Amusingly, he started his review by extolling the virtues of our Treo 650 stating that:

“For Americans who want a smart cellphone with a built-in keyboard for typing email, the best choice by far has been PalmOne's Treo 650, sold by most major U.S. wireless carriers.

The standard BlackBerry hand-helds from Research In Motion make clunky phones, and the slimmer BlackBerry 7100, while an acceptable phone, lacks a full keyboard. The models using Microsoft's hand-held software have either lacked keyboards altogether or been too large to make comfortable phones. In contrast, the Treo is both roomy enough to be a good hand-held email device and compact enough to be a good phone.”

As you can appreciate from the picture above, the Samsung i730 is roughly the same shape and size of our Treo 650 (with an uglier antenna though).  However, the i730 benefits from two features that Treonauts have been eagerly awaiting.  Namely, it can handle EVDO which delivers broadband data connectivity and also has WiFi built-in.  Unfortunately, as Mossberg points out, he doesn’t “expect to see an EVDO-capable Treo until very late this year or early in 2006” and we still have no clue if WiFi will be ‘permitted’ to be built-in by the carriers.  He therefore concludes that “the Samsung is the fastest email and Web device with a built-in keyboard that is small enough to be used comfortably as a phone”.

However, as most knowledgeable smartphone users know, hardware is only a small part of the overall equation and it is ultimately the seamless combination of hardware and software that delivers a superior experience.  In this respect, Mossberg states that:

“There were some things about the i730 that drove me nuts compared with the Treo. It has much worse battery life. The Microsoft Pocket PC software it uses is much harder to navigate one-handed, as phones should be used, than the Palm software on the Treo. Even when doing simple tasks, i730 users will have to employ the stylus, and two hands, far more often than Treo users do.

Unlike the Treo, whose keyboard is always visible beneath a square screen, the i730's keyboard is hidden beneath its rectangular screen and slides out for use. The keys are a little more widely spaced than the Treo's, though they are flatter and less pronounced. I found typing on the i730 to be about as fast as on the Treo.

In addition to its increased need for the stylus and two hands, the i730 has some other drawbacks. In my tests, its standard battery died in far less than a full day and far faster than my Treo's battery, which typically lasts me for a whole day of moderate phone-call use and heavy email use.”

There are a few question that people are surprisingly not asking.  As a PalmOS licensee, how come Samsung have not yet released their own PalmOS smartphone?  Surely they could see that their excellent industrial design skills could be successfully combined with the PalmOS to deliver a bestselling smartphone. 

Additionally, although this view is not widely shared, I believe that the PalmOS (particularly once it is running on Linux) could provide a consumer electronics company such as Samsung (and other Asian CE manufacturers) the much needed OS that could evolve to power most of its future hanheld devices.  For example, I am still at a loss to understand why nobody has picked the PalmOS to build a killer MP3 player or portable media player.

Finally, the i730 is the second Windows Mobile smartphone with a sliding keyboard and I wonder how long it will be before palmOne releases its own large screen + sliding keyboard Treo as per the mockup on the right (see Future Treo Prototypes Roundup).

It is evident that palmOne’s lead in the smartphone space will come under increasing threat if it is unable to release a variety of Treo models to cater to particular audiences.  As Rob Haitani, Product Design Architect for palmOne, recently pointed out in a Q&A at Treocentral “One size cannot fit all”. 

Evidently, an expanded ‘Treo Family’ of smartphones would help fill the gaps before its competitors do.  In this respect, Microsoft put its PR engine into high gear last week to push the message that it “Aims to lead the smartphone market within three years” a statement which sounds a lot more aggressive and tangible to me than palmOne’s own aim to become “the world's most significant mobile computing company” – even though at present palmOne does indeed fit the ‘most significant’ description well.

Samsung Phone Offers Wireless Broadband, But It Has Drawbacks [WSJ Personal Technology]

Treonauts are only just getting started

Posted by Andrew on June 29, 2005 at 01:53 PM

Treo Killers?

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by Tony | Jun 29, 2005 3:51:11 PM

The one thing that I like about the Samsung keyboard is the slightly angled keys, split down the middle. This would make it easier to type without looking at the keyboard...Don't know how well that works in practice, but in theory it's a nice little touch.

I don't like sliding keyboards though. With the keyboard hidden, the Samsung appears the same size as the Treo, but with a slightly longer screen. I'll give up that little bit of extra screen space to avoid having to slide the kbd open and shut every time I want to type something.

by Willy | Jun 29, 2005 5:24:33 PM

Came across an ingenius keyboard design:


Not a Treo killer, but a good text messaging form factor.

by A. Davis | Jun 29, 2005 5:46:47 PM

The other new Treo killer contender... :) (scanned from the inside back cover of the May 05 Maxim) http://palm.nccomp.com/images/new-treo.jpg

by Franck | Jun 29, 2005 5:52:43 PM

On top of other potential issues described in regards to the sliding keyboard, we do not know how it will age mechanically.... As you may recall, they were a lot of issues when the first foldable or flipping cell phone were introduced.

by Nate | Jun 29, 2005 8:13:39 PM

Samsung has released at least two Palm smart phones. The SPH-i330 and SPH-i500 were both Palm powered.

by Levi Wallach | Jul 26, 2005 1:12:05 PM

I'm wondering if part of the wait to offer competitors to the Treo from other PalmOS licensees is actually waiting to see how things end up with PalmOS. They may indeed have prototypes, but may want to wait until there is a new version of the PalmOS, as you say, perhaps with Linux as a backend...

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