Palm-based Smart Phones vs. The Others

Recent news has covered the release of many new smart phones. We have the new Treo650, the new Sony P910, the new Audiovox PPC 6000, the new Blackberry 7100, and the new Nokia 6670. Recently, I’ve been speaking via email almost daily with my AT&T (now Cingular) rep. For some reason, the conversation always steers towards his wanting to push the latest from Nokia, Blackberry, etc.

Granted, Audiovox is new to the smart phone market and Sony’s aren’t the most popular, but for some reason my AT&T rep seems to treat the Treo line like a red-headed step child (no offense meant or implied to person’s with red hair and/or those adopted or inherited through marriage). This is interesting considering tha the Treo600 is the most sold smart phone for 2004. Blackberry comes in second and the others almost aren’t on the radar.

Granted, I’ve heard a lot of bad things about Treo’s. Many have needed to be replaced, some more than once. There’ve been both hardware and software issues. But this must also be taken in perspective. Palm is to the PDA market what Dell is to the PC market. And Palm is to the embedded OS market what Microsoft Windows is to the PC operating system market. Dell just recalled over 1,000,000 notebook power supplies. And Microsoft releases fixes to bugs and security issues monthly. So, when Palm has the largest market share of PDAs and smart phones, is it unexpected that they will also have a larger number of issues and returns/replacements than their competition? I don’t think so. Also to consider, the Treo600 has been on the market for over a year now. I’m not hearing a lot of complaints about the newer versions of the 600 as I did originally. This should be taken into consideration since new devices often have more bugs than older ones (consider why many companies are still running Windows NT. It may be old, but its been around so long that most of its issues are resolved or at least known).

So after going back and forth with my AT&T rep via email, I finally sent “the long one” (email) about why I think Palm OS based devices are a better choice for both the enterprise and the personal user. His response was, “That is the best reply to a device I have ever received from a customer!”, which is what has prompted my writing this article. Basically though, I’ve simply taken the sum of my last two emails to him and wrapped them up for easier reading.

The Treo600/650 isn’t just a smartphone. Its a PDA with a Palm OS and a host of available applications. Personally, I like the new Nokia’s, the new Sony, and even the new Blackberry. Each has its pros and cons. Some look nicer than others. However the majority of these all run either the Symbian OS or Windows Mobile Edition. The PalmOS is 10 years old and 90% of older apps made for Palm 1.0 still work on the newer Palm OSs (granted, the Palm 1.0 apps are black and white and make not look nice on a newer Cobalt-based system, but many of them still work. A good example is STRIP. STRIP is a password storage tool for PalmOS. It has been updated much over the years, but it runs equally well on my old Visor Edge, my Treo600, and one of other Palm PDAs that’s so old I can’t even remember its name.

In contrast, Symbian has almost no add-on softwares, and of the ones that do exist the vast majority are not free. Windows Mobile has some, but its still a relatively new OS that is new to the mobile phone market, and therefore doesn’t have the available applications that the Palm OS has. And, like Symbian, the majority of applications for Windows Mobile/Windows embedded are not free. Many Palm softwares are free. That makes the Symbian and Windows based smart phones really nothing more than cellular phones that can sync email, contacts, etc. Its the available software that sets the Palm apart.

Let me give you some examples:

As a sysadmin working with both Linux and Windows systems, I want to be able to remotely control both operating systems. So with a Palm-based device with a wireless internet connection (GSM/GPRS/CDMA), I’m halfway there. Now I just need software. To access Linux systems, I need an “ssh client”. So go to google and search for “ssh palm os“. We see multiple pages of results including at least 3 that are SSH2 capable and free to use. To remote my Windows systems, I need to VPN into my office to a Windows 2000 PPTP server, then use Terminal Services. Google searches for “vpn client palm os” and “terminal services client palm os” both get hits. Yes, I may have to pay for these softwares, but they exist. So now, from a single device I can sync my Exchange email in realtime via GoodLink, I can check personal email (pop/imap) from the built-in Palm email client, I can remotely access my systems with a VPN client, and I can remotely control them via SSH and Terminal Services, including the ability to remotely reboot them if necessary. And all this doesn’t even begin to include the plethora of free games, media players, themes, etc. available for both free and purchase for PalmOS.

Try similar searches for Symbian or Windows Mobile. A few exist, but not nearly as many and the majority that do are not free. The other phones (phones running operating systems other than Palm) are good. And each phone has its pros and cons. And if all you care about is a phone/email device and some basic web browsing, then Palm has lots of competition. But, the Palm based phones offer the most add-on-ability , a more mature and well known operating system, and a longer list of free and purchasable softwares. Further, the PalmOS is fairly open too… meaning that I can very easily write a custom app to run on a Palm-based device… much more easily than I can with Windows or Symbian. From a business perspective, Palm’s are a more usable device.

Granted, its all in perspective. The CEO/CFO type is only thinking “email, calendar, contacts, and web browsing”. The sysadmin thinks “functionality”. But its the sysadmin/CTO type that should be making the corporate decisions on devices such as these. As a sysadmin I know all the smart phones can be phones, email devices, and browse the web. However, I also know that Palm devices have a greater ability to be used for other purposes which increases their potential, if not actual, ROI.

When I tell my CEO that we can give Treo 650’s to our five sales people for approximately $500 each upfront, plus approximately $150 a month in charges:

$60/month for 500 to 750-some minutes
$60/month for an unlimited data plan
$30/month for GoodLink [$330 per user per year averages to $27.5/month]

he thinks “that’s $2500 upfront and $9000/year ($750 total per month for 5 users).

Let’s apply this scenario to myself:

For approximately $500 upfront and $1800 ($150/month * 12 months) a year I can have all the productivity defined above (realtime sync with Exchange via GoodLink, a cellular phone, web browsing,). But I can also know on Sunday morning one of our servers crashed and have it fixed before everyone arrives Monday (which increases everyone’s productivity).. I can know that power was dropped to us on Friday night at 2am and drive to the office and perform graceful shutdowns before the UPS runs out (which reduces risk of corrupt data, and subsequent downtime; again, increasing everyone’s productivity).

But for an extra $120 of add-on Palm software for VPN, SSH, and Terminal Services (assuming I don’t get free versions of these), I can also manage my Linux and Windows systems from home, from the airport, from the East Coast, or from the beach in Hawaii without needing a laptop, broadband, or dial-up. And when John Doe locks his account out after typing his password incorrectly too many times, and I happen to be downtown at a training class, I can remote my Windows 2000 server, reset his account, and have him working again. And with a bluetooth headset (the new Treo 650 supports bluetooth), I can do this while I’m talking to him at the same time and have him test his re-enabled access right then and there. And, since I’m already paying $60/month for unlimited data services, I can do all this with no extra charges or fees. So now, I have increased productivity and so does John Doe because he doesn’t have to twiddle his thumbs waiting for me to drive back to the office while I miss my training class. And I don’t have to risk security by calling a trusted person to give them the admin password (over a phone, in public) and walk them through an account reset. Imagine sitting at dinner with your family and not having to rush out or leave early to fix a crisis. Imagine not having to leave the movie theatre for a problem. Instead, just pull out your Treo with these additional softwares and in a few seconds you have the issues resolved and you’re back to what you’d rather be doing.

So now, with the ability to work on my systems from anywhere, I’m driving into the office less for emergencies and I have more time at home with my family. I can now expense less mileage for those after hour emergencies, and no longer need to expense my home DSL connection. So of that $150/month, we can subtract $40 a month for my DSL and $20 a month in mileage, bringing the total cost down to $90/month. And none of this accounts for the time savings of not needing to stop what I’m doing, turn on my laptop, and find a dial-up line or broadband connection. Nor does this factor in the additional productivity of an SDIO combo card that has 256Mb of storage and 802.11b wireless.

This whole solution also means I can sit in my conference room with all these same abilities and NOT need to bring my laptop or run back to my desk for something I forgot. And when my managers are in their weekly management meeting and one guy has the latest sales forecast Excel spreadsheet, does he have to email it to everyone? No. Treo’s have IR. He simply *beems* the file to the other managers and they all have it immediately. No need to sync. No need to turn on the laptops. No need to even check their email.

From a business perspective, the Palm devices are simply more usable, more expandable, and offer more productivity due to the available add-on softwares for the PalmOS compared to the alternatives. When applied to my Sales team, there is GPS software, itinerary planning software, etc for PalmOS. There’s map softwares. There’s AvantGo. The options are almost unlimited. And, as is the case with Windows, almost all PDA-type softwares are always built for PalmOS. Just like every piece of PC hardware has a Windows driver, but may lack a Mac or Linux driver, almost every PDA-type software is made for the PalmOS and many times not made for Windows Mobile or Symbian based devices.

In summary, I have nothing against the Symbian OS, Windows Mobile Edition, or the devices that use them. However, from an ROI and available software perspective, PalmOS-based devices are a better choice.

About the Author:

In simple terms, I’m a Sr Level SysAdmin with 10+ years of experience, on a path to CTO (hint, hint to any readers). I’ve worked in many different sectors, consulted, and watched the dot-com rise and subsequent implosion. I have experience with everything from Novell to Windows to Solaris to Linux to HA Clustering to end-user desktop support and all the networks, routers, firewalls, etc that connect them. I am neither pro- Windows, nor pro-Linux. I believe each OS has its place and purpose, though where either can do the job, I’ll go with Linux. Presently I work for a biotech in the Carlsbad, CA area. We have a diverse mix of Windows-based systems for our office (2000/2003 Server, Exchange, XP, etc) and a host of RedHat Linux based clusters for our production environment. Our sales team is spread throughout the US and UK. Personally, I’m a geek at heart. I like toys. I was one of the first to get the LaCie 1TB Bigger Disk just so I could say I have a terabyte of storage under my desk. I have an order in for the new OQO despite some not very good reviews. I was one of the first to get the original Apple Titanium G4 notebook. And I recall dropping somewhere in the $500 range for a Handspring Visor Edge when they first came out. I get new cell phones annually, and more often than not, get the greater than $400 ones.

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