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« Apple PDA Rumors and The PDA vs. The Laptop | Main | PalmSource DevCon: Day Two »
Friday
Feb132004

PalmSource DevCon: Day Three

Today is my last day at the DevCon. Since I'm booked on a red-eye flight back home tonight, packing up all my gear and checking out was on this morning's agenda, right after a call to Gail and Nathan. I learned that things back home were going well, which is always a great way to start the day.

I had a bit fatter bag to pack for the trip home, so I got busy. Fortunately I had my favorite L.L. Bean nylon suitcase along, which zips out to accommodate more stuff. This $20 soft-sided suitcase was purchased from the L.L. Bean outlet in Maine on our honeymoon. It's my bag of choice for travel, because it's so tough and flexible. Once I was packed up, I made my way to the desk to check out.

The "workday" began with a meeting in our User Council room, followed by a walk down to the ballroom for a special session with David Nagel, CEO of PalmSource and Jeff Hawkins of PalmOne, (inventor of the Pilot). Nagel asked Hawkins all sorts of interesting questions about his work over the years. Hawkins was as engaging as ever, providing thoughtful and funny replies. I get the sense Jeff really is a "regular guy" underneath that visionary exterior. :-)

When Jeff was asked what has motivated him to do what he's done for the handheld industry, he spoke about how early on he knew mobile computing was the way of the future, but wasn't quite sure where it might lead. At the time he began, the "connected organizer" was really just his first step in a longer term vision of a device that could be with you all the time, carrying all of your critical information locally or on a network.

Jeff made a comment something to the effect of "making handhelds is like batting in baseball. If you get a hit every third at bat, you're doing pretty well." I thought this was a good analogy to what in fact Hawkins' track record has been. The Pilot was his third at bat (and a success) and the Treo 600 is a third generation device, that seems quite popular.

From what I've seen of the Treo 600 and its users, this device is very nice. I know that the Treo 180 had great integration between the PDA and Phone capabilities, so I suspect this has improved in the 600. Apparently the 5-way pad makes one handheld use of the Treo a wonderful experience. Orange in the UK is apparently pleased with the Treo 600, claiming that it's the best selling phone they currently have. I thought the industrial design was also well-done... the Treo 600 feels great in the hand and is much more workable (and less geeky) than the original 1XX and 2XX series Treos.

Hawkins also talked about moving the industry forward in small steps; that you aren't going to change the world with a single product, but if you can move the industry closer to where you want to go, that's a success.

When asked about competing platforms like Symbian, Microsoft and BREW, he talked about how they're much less flexible with regards to what can be done with their OSes. Since PalmOne sees their way to differentiate in customized software, this was a significant issue. He also mentioned that these other platforms were much more focused on building "platforms" rather than building "great products" -- something he and his team are very keen on doing.

Hawkins talked about many other topics, but his funniest comment came when Nagel asked him about his interest in brain research. He talked about what he's doing in that area and how for him, building handheld computers has financed his brain work:

"Other people wait on tables, I build handheld computers."

After the session ended, Michael Ashby and I had a chance to chat with Ryan Kairer of Palm Infocenter for a little while. I hadn't realized it, but Ryan is actually doing PIC as his full time gig, which is very good to hear! It's always good to hear people doing what they love.

Immediately after the session, Mashby had to leave for his flight back to Nashville. We said our goodbyes, though we'll of course be in touch online. One great thing about the Internet is, friends may part in person but can keep in close touch online.

The bulk of my day consisted of Palm OS User Council meetings, which all went very well. Our Palm OS Handheld Survey results (presented to PalmSource and licensees) were received well and seemed to be taken seriously. In fact, it's good to note that several of the most common wishes and gripes from the survey seem to be addressed in Palm OS Cobalt. I think the future of Palm OS is going to be quite an interesting ride.

I was very disappointed in the announcement that Mac OS will no longer be supported by PalmSource on Cobalt devices. It looks like PalmSource has decided that Mac support is not their focus with a limited amount of manpower and money. Of course I can understand their reasoning for the decision, but I still dislike it. The Missing Sync, which will apparently fill the gap (and is a very nice solution) requires Mac user to spend another $30-40 just to sync a Cobalt-based device. Argghhh!

Apparently, the good run of luck for Mac users (probably generated by ex-Apple employees and Mac users at PalmSource) has run out of gas. In a discussion with my friend Andy, I wondered if Mac support had always been subsidized and never profitable for PalmSource. Now with tighter budgets and Microsoft and Nokia coming on strong, that subsidization may be unrealistic. Throw The Missing Sync into the mix and you can see PalmSource's possible thinking here. It's at least a reasonable guess.

It's also very important to know why PalmSource has dropped direct Mac support. From what I've read in the technical whitepaper PDF provided by Mark/Space, the old Mac HotSync tool couldn't handle the new XML databases of Cobalt nor the larger than 64k chunks of data it needs to sync with the Mac. It's possible that Mac support for PalmSource might have meant a complete ground-up rewrite of the Mac HotSync tool, which would be no trivial task.

One ray of hope is that all licensees can provide Mac support via The Missing Sync. I would hope makers of Cobalt devices would see Mac users as attractive and provide a Lite OEM version of Missing Sync in the box, with the offer of a fanicer, more powerful Pro version from Mark/Space. However, if a Missing Sync Lite version cannibalizes the sales of the full version, maybe this isn't so attractive to Mark/Space.

Maybe a coupon for a reduced cost download of The Missing Sync would be more realistic. At the very least, licensees could offer a copy of The Missing Sync thrown into the box with a Cobalt device for additional cost, saving the additional step of downloading or ordering the software from Mark/Space.

But my larger concern with PalmSource dropping direct Mac sync support is what this might signal to other Palm OS developers. Will they be more likely to drop Mac conduits for their products now? Maybe the way out of this is a wireless sync approach. If Cobalt devices come standard with WiFi or Bluetooh (or both) would it be better to have direct sync over these wireless protocols than to build platform-specific HotSync conduits? Hmmm.

If you happen to be a Mac-Palm user, please send me your thoughts on PalmSource's decision (with Palm/Mac Support in the subject line). I'll be sending a summary report of the Mac community's reaction to this news about Mac support being dropped to PalmSource, and would love your thoughts on the matter.

As the day wore on, Our group of 7 User Council members began to dwindle. Greg Gaub, Craig Froehle and Jennifer Shelamer all departed by 6:30. The remainder of our crew, which included Dan Royea and Renee Roberts (also User Council members), and Mike Waldron of Bits n' Bolts Software, paid a visit to the Valley Fair Mall in Cupertino. We wanted to to have a peek at the PalmOne Café and get a bite to eat. The Café seemed decent: people were actually checking out the tethered handhelds on display at multiple tables. (no, they didn't offer Lattes).

Dinner was fast-food fare, though here in California that includes sushi (which I happened to have). Dan had a similar selection of sushi and when he pointed at his sushi and gave me a look, I thought he liked it as much as I did. Nope, he said it was average. I guess I'm just a land-lubber, sushi newbie. :-)

We made our last visit to the hotel to drop off Dan and Mike, then Renee kindly dropped me off at San Jose International. The airport is a ghost town at night, though my check-in agent said Thursdays are crazy, since everyone wants to get a jump on Friday travel. I was glad to be flying out Wednesday night. I found a seat near an AC outlet. O' Happy joy!

I was reminded of the cold winter I was returning to as we walked into the cool night to board the plane home. The San Jose evening was very pleasant but cool enough to wash away my expectations of a warm Thursday morning. I was still happy to be going home, but wished I could bring a few nice days back to Milwaukee for Gail and Nathan. Oh well.

2004-02-13
Now it's Friday, and I'm tuning up and tweaking my last DevCon travelogue post. I did try to get this last one out on Wednesday, but my schedule was too busy and my mind and body were too tired after three intense days and a red eye flight home. In the end it seemed better to provide good entry a little later rather than rushing the post out early.

All in all, it's been another great DevCon. I was very pleased to have met so many new people this time 'round, including Bryan, George, Lonnie and Zane. I think these conventions become much more enjoyable when you look forward to meeting old and new friends, so next year (should I have the good opportunity to return) should be a blast.

I hope you have enjoyed these travelogues. Sometimes I wonder what interest readers will have in the small details of my trip. Maybe none. Yet it is sometimes the case that things I don't think are interesting at all, are to others. Well, at least it's a good writing exercise and record of the week. :-)

Have a great weekend everyone!

Update 2004-02-19: MobileWhack Dispatch Day Three has now been posted.

Reader Comments (1)

I enjoyed reoding your coverage too!
February 16, 2004 | Unregistered Commenterkpr

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