As earlier rumors suggested, Palm’s newest handheld is going to have a 4 GB hard drive. The rumor mills have given two different names for the product–“Tugsten X” and “LifeDrive.” According to CNet, it looks like Amazon has let the cat out of the bag, listing the PalmOne LifeDrive for $499.
Amazon doesn’t list a lot of details, but the name is really the only thing that was up for debate–most of the rumors list the 4 GB drive, Bluetooth, WiFi, and PalmOS 5.x. Most rumors say 64 MB of RAM, although 32 MB is a possibility.
Here’s one of Amazon’s pictures:
People seem to think that PalmOne is going to market this as something other then a normal PDA/handheld; that implies that the software bundle will be a bit different then normal, but I haven’t seen any details. If you look at the image, notice that the 4 “application” buttons are different then earlier models–it looks like Home/Files/Pictures/Star (?), rather then Calendar/Contacts/To-Do/Memo.
Personally, I think it’s cool, but I just can’t get excited about Grifitti devices anymore. I’m still looking for a new handheld to replace my increasingly decrepit Clie, but I doubt that this will do it for me. Now, if they could add a keyboard and a 2-ish MP camera, all for about the same price, I’d consider it. As things stand, my pockets are just too full, and I don’t see what this adds to my life.
Okay, so yesterday’s rumor has been thoroughly scoffed at, so it’s time for a new rumor. Today’s buzz suggests that Palm has a whole new product family under development to complement today’s Zire, Tungsten, and Treo families. The only details floating around are:
- 4 GB of internal storage
- Bigger then Tungsten T5
- New sub-brand (not “Tungsten”)
Since 4 gigs of flash costs about the same as a whole Palm, this rumor suggests that Palm is using a 4 GB 1” hard drive, like the model in the iPod mini. This wouldn’t be the first PDA with a hard drive–Sharp’s had one for months–but it would be the first one on sale outside of Japan.
So, if it’s not a Tungsten, then what is it, and what market are they aiming towards? Gaming? Media player? Portable web browser? Laptop replacement? Knowing Palm, they’ll probably screw it up beyond belief, but one can always hope.
(via Gizmodo) PalmAddict claims that PalmOne is going to release a new model in late April. The T6 specs provided look more like a wishlist then an actual list of features that Palm would build into one of their devices:
- OS 6 (with scalable fonts)
- 1 GB Flash
- 3 Megapixel Cam
- New connector (ethernet included)
- VGA resolution 640 x 480
- Graffiti 2 plus (with voice commands)
- Interface to iTunes (Apple iPod)
- The device is maximum 200 grams
- Automatic software update over internet
- Compatibility mode for pocket Windows is built in
- Initial price is around $400
- Launch date approx end of April
I’d love to see this, but I just can’t see it happening. In particular, I don’t see them putting out a new connector–the just changed it with the T5/Treo 650, and it’d be crazy to do it again. Also, who wants wired Ethernet to their PDA? Wireless, sure, but I’ve never heard anyone ask for a PDA with wired networking. I’m assuming that “wavelan” means some form of WiFi; hopefully Palm has finally seen the light on this front and will stop releasing high-end models that are put to shame by low-end PocketPCs.
The funny thing is that I was wondering yesterday when Palm was going to release their next handheld. They’ve traditionally done Spring/Fall releases, but they’ve been falling down lately. Since they’re clearly in danger of becoming irrelevant, the release of a model with even half of the features listed here could go a long ways towards regaining their mindshare. Now a Treo with half of these features would have me jumping up and down. Pity that VGA Treos with WiFi probably won’t show up until 2007 or so.
It looks like Cingular’s Treo 650 page went live at 9:00 PST last night. Surprisingly, they’re selling it for only $400 after rebates, with a 2-year contract. I was expecting a price closer to $600. In addition, PalmOne is now selling unlocked GSM Treo 650s direct for $599.
If I read Cingular’s web site correctly, it looks like I could get a 650 for $400 and swap to a new contract without paying any early termination fees, but I’d have to buy a new phone for my wife. On the other hand, going through PalmOne’s site makes it pretty clear that they can sell me an AT&T-locked phone for $549, but then I’d have to fight with Cingular to get them to add EDGE data support to my existing AT&T contract.
Frankly, this looks like enough of a headache that I’m going to put off dealing with it for a month or two. I mean, I’ve been waiting on the 650 since June of last year, I guess another couple months won’t kill me.
Engadget is pretty convinced that Cingular is going to release the Treo 650 this week, either on Wednesday or Thursday. As I mentioned before, I’m probably going to get a Mac mini first, but I’m still interested in the Treo. My big issue is how it’ll work for legacy AT&T customers. There’s some indication that Cingular has done testing on their own network (“orange”) and AT&T’s old network (“blue”), but I can only assume that that’s for business customers with large AT&T accounts. I just can’t see them selling them directly to AT&T’s consumers without forcing the consumer to switch to a Cingular plan.
Since I’m currently halfway through an AT&T family plan contract, I’m concerned about switching to a new Cingular plan–they’ll probably force a contract extension on me, and force me to replace my wife’s AT&T-locked Sony-Ericsson T616. In addition, there’s been a suggestion that the Treo 650 isn’t eligible for family plans because it’s a “data phone.”
I guess I’ll know the answers to these questions in a few days. There’s a Cingular store less then a block from my office; hopefully they’ll be able to answer some questions.
Update: Looks like it may have been pushed back a week
A lot of people were amazed that PalmOne could introduce the Treo 650 without any sort of WiFi ability at all. Since most of the companies building Windows-based competitors are including WiFi now, it seemed only reasonable that Palm would follow their lead. Instead, they introduced the Treo 650 with only a vague promise that they might support SDIO WiFi cards eventually. Since they made the same basic promise with the original Treo 600, and nothing ever came of it, a lot of people assumed that the 650 would be a WiFi-free zone.
That doesn’t actually appear to be the case, however. First, someone hacked Palm’s own SD WiFi card drivers to work (sort of) on the Treo 650. There were two major problems with that, however. First, it screwed up the phone’s ability to do IP via the cellular network. Second, even once that gets fixed, it leaves you without a flash card in your Treo. Since the Treo needs all the storage it can get, this doesn’t strike me as a workable long-term solution.
At CES, Enfora introduced a second solution, in the form of a WiFi “sled” for the Treo 600 and 650. Similar in concept to their earlier models for Palm devices, it’s basically a clip-on brick that provides extra battery power and WiFi via the docking connector at the bottom of the phone. At $150, the price isn’t too bad, but it’s probably too bulky for everyday use.
For truly compromiseless WiFi, Treo users will probably have to wait for next year’s model. I’d love to have a handheld with WiFi so I could get fast, free connectivity at home and at work, but Palm doesn’t seem particularly eager to address that need.
X-Gadget has a Treo 600 vs 650 comparison review up. Summary:
- The sound quality is slightly worse on the 650, but still better then most phones.
- The screen is vastly better.
- The camera is much better.
- The CPU is a lot faster.
- The software is slightly improved.
The reviewer didn’t mention low memory issues or spend more then a few minutes playing with Bluetooth. All in all, his take seems to be that the hardware is good, but PalmOS is getting long in the tooth and needs updated.
If you’ve been living under a rock, then you might not have noticed that PalmSource has announced that they’re going to be building a version of the Palm operating system that runs on top of Linux. It’s not completely clear what this means–are they replacing the kernel in PalmOS 6 with Linux, or is this a parallel project, intended to fit into new niches? PalmSource released an open letter to the Linux community that provides a few details:
- Existing 68k-based Palm apps will work fine.
- Apps based on the new Cobalt API will need to be recompiled.
- ARM-based apps for PalmOS 5 aren’t mentioned, it’s probably safe to assume that most of them will break.
- They’re going to enhance the Linux kernel as needed and contribute their changes back to the community.
- It’ll be possible to run Linux apps underneath their UI, but if you want a user interface, you’ll need to use their API. In other words, it’ll be possible to run things like Apache and MySQL on PalmOS for Linux, but not X applications.
- Their licensing model for PalmOS itself isn’t changing–they’re still licensing the whole package to hardware manufacturers and expecting them to port it to their hardware. Presumably, this will become easier when using Linux, because it comes with more drivers and Linux driver programming is a easier skill to hire then PalmOS driver programming.
Of course, that glosses over most of the important issues. Particularly, is any vendor actually going to ship this? Ever? PalmOS 6 (“Cobalt”) was released to manufacturers at the end of 2003, and not only is there no PalmOS 6 hardware available, there aren’t even any rumors of any on the horizon. It’s unclear if PalmOne will ever ship a PalmOS 6 device. It’s entirely possible that the only PalmOS 6 hardware to ship in 2005 will be from afleet of small asian contract manufacturers building for local markets, although Samsung may have something up their sleeves.
Given the glacial rate of PalmOS 6’s adoption, PalmSource will probably be best off focusing all of their attention onto PalmOS for Linux and calling it PalmOS 7, because there’s no way they can carry three software lines–PalmOS 5, PalmOS 6, and PalmOS for Linux. Since current PalmOS 6 applications won’t be binary-compatible with PalmOS for Linux, there’s no way they can call it PalmOS 6.2 and pretend that it’s an extension of the current 6.x line. If they’re going to push a Linux product at all, then they need to push it hard, and they can’t push two “next generation” products that are mutually incompatible.
Which brings up the big question: when will it be ready? After reading their press releases, I don’t thing they’ve been working on this for very long. They certainly aren’t ready to ship anything, and I’d be surprised if they actually have much more then a proof-of-concept port in-house. On the other hand, they have a solid, well-known base to work from, so it’s not like they have to fight with alpha-grade build tools, flaky OSes, and all of the other moving targets that they presumably had to deal with when building PalmOS 6. Porting the current PalmOS to run on top of the Linux framebuffer device shouldn’t be very hard. Adding support for Linux’s network stack might be interesting–as I recall, PalmOS 5’s TCP stack was entirely located in user space, so it the API might not be very close to the traditional BSD socket API, but I don’t really know. Porting 68k apps will be easy; they already have an emulator that runs on Linux and has for years. Adapting it to the new framework shouldn’t require a whole lot of work.
Unfortunately, the one thing that will probably be hardest is the thing that makes PalmOS so unique–it’s filesystem, or rather the lack of one. Traditionally, PalmOS applications don’t really have the notion of saving or multitasking–everything lived in RAM, and switching between programs didn’t involve a whole lot of extra effort. Applications kept their data organized into databases, not files, and they edited the databases directly, without any sort of “save” step. This meant that switching between apps is fast and gives a good user experience for simple applications, but it hasn’t scaled well because it doesn’t provide an easy way to manage block-based storage, like external flash cards or internal hard drives. Instead, PalmOS has had to add an whole extra API for accessing filesystem-based devices, and this has left us in a state where some applications won’t run off of flash cards, and many applications are unable to access data saved on flash cards.
With a virtual-memory based OS like Linux, it’s possible to fake a lot of this with
mmap, but that isn’t ideal when you’re dealing with flash cards–it’s easy to wear out most flash cards today by sending them thousands of small writes, and that’s what I’d expect to see when changing a
mmaped database. Also, what happens when a flash card is ejected while an application has a file mapped? Linux is never happy when removable devices go away, but causing applications to crash just because the card was removed is seriously user-unfriendly. If mmap won’t work, the big alternative is to copy things to RAM transparently and then copy them back out when done, but that will push the memory requirements up, which will push up costs and limit battery life.
Given all of this, I’d be surprised to see a PalmOS for Linux device before mid-2006, and that’s a long ways away. It’s not clear that the Palm world can wait for another year and a half, falling further and further behind the networking and multitasking abilities of their PocketPC-based competitors. Given that, PalmSource must be feeling a lot of pressure from their licensees to switch to Linux, or they wouldn’t have made this announcement at all.
The Treo 650 is supposed to be officially released on Monday, but Palm slipped a press release out last week and most of the carriers are talking semi-openly about it, so there aren’t a whole lot of secrets left. The only details left uncertain are shipping dates and prices.
Here’s a quick recap:
- Phone/PDA hybrid
- 320x320 screen
- PalmOS 5.4 (“Garnet”)
- 312 MHz Intel XScale CPU
- 32 MB RAM plus 32 MB of flash for backups
- 1.3 MP camera
- SD-IO slot (maybe WiFi SD support, maybe not)
- GSM model supports EDGE as well as GPRS
- Removable battery
AT&T, Sprint, and Cingular should be shipping it before the end of 2004; Verizon and T-Mobile will probably wait until the middle of 2005. Unlocked GSM phones will probably be $650; it’s unclear what carriers will charge, but it’ll probably be similar to their Treo 600 pricing from earlier this year.
While the official announcement date is Monday, October 25th, the NDA embargo will most likely lift at midnight GMT, which means that US-based sites will start posting details sometime Sunday afternoon, just like the Tungsten T5 release a couple weeks ago.
As usual, there’s a bit of controversy and disgruntlement surrounding the Treo 650. A lot of people were waiting for a Treo with more then 32 MB of RAM, WiFi, and PalmOS 6.x (“Cobalt”). While the Treo 650 includes a number of improvements over the 600 (faster CPU, bluetooth, internal flash, removable battery, EDGE support), it’s more evolutionary then revolutionary. PalmSource claims that there will be almost a dozen new PalmOS smartphones next year; odds are at least some of them will be substantial improvements over the Treo 650. However, I haven’t seen any substantial leaks, and I doubt that any of the other PalmOS phones will show up before 2Q2005. I don’t want to wait 6 months to replace my (rapidly failing) 3-year-old Clie, so I’ll probably order the 650 as soon as its available.
Update: CNet has a nice picture:
- 16 MHz faster (400 vs 416)
- Includes 160 MB of usable flash without a SD card (worth around $30 or so)
- Automatically backs itself up on power failure (BackupBuddy VFS works for me, $15)
- No slider, so the T5 is slightly larger.
- Still no WiFi (although Palm’s WiFi SD card works)
- Same OS
That’s pretty much it. It’s amazing what Palm can do with a year’s worth of R&D, isn’t it.
The only good news out of this whole debacle is that we have an official release date for the Treo 650: October 25th.