By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, August 20, 2008 at 10:09 am
“With the Treo Pro, Palm Inc…shows it, too, can innovate.” That’s how a Dow Jones story on Palm’s new smartphone starts off…and it’s a jarring, unfair note on which to begin it. Yes, Palm has seen more than its fair share of woes in recent years, many of them self-inflicted. But this is a company with a rich history of innovation–if you were to list the most important and influential mobile gadgets of all time, both the PalmPilot and the original Treo would rank high. Palm surely wants to prove that it can innovate again, but history is not going to look back at this company as an also-ran.
The Treo Pro, which Palm announced today after a couple of false starts, is entirely evolutionary. Pace Dow Jones, but I’m not sure if there’s anything truly innovative at all about it–what it is is a much-needed and overdue refresh of the basic Treo design, which had changed amazingly little since the release of the Treo 600 back in 2003. But a phone doesn’t have to be particularly innovative to be sexy, and the Treo Pro is the first Treo since the 650 that can reasonably be described as sexy…
Quick rundown of notable Treo Pro features:
–all-new industrial design (owing more than a little to the popular Treo cousin the Centro);
–a screen that’s flush with the face of the phone a la the iPhone, rather than a sunken one a la previous Treos;
–Wi-Fi and GPS (not new in Treos, but still a pleasant surprise);
–a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can plug in standard earphones;
–at .53″, it’s thinner than previous Treos (but still a bit chunkier than an iPhone 3G);
–at 4.7 ounces, it’s lighter than previous Treos (and precisely the same weight as an iPhone 3G);
–Talk time of five hours is the longest that Palm quotes for a Treo;
–Oh, and it runs Windows Mobile 6.1, and I’m not sure if Palm has made any amendments to the software other than the ones it’s included in previous Treos.
Palm hasn’t announced any U.S. carriers for the Pro; it’ll be selling the phone direct, in a $549 unlocked version. I hate contracts and love unlocked phones, so that doesn’t faze me, but Palm won’t sell gazillions of these things unless it’s available cheap from one or more carriers.
I haven’t laid eyes on a Treo Pro in person yet, but I’d like to–it sure looks good. But at best, it’s just an appetizer–the next new Palm phone that stands a chance of being really exciting is the first one based on the all-new version of its own operating system. Not much is known about that OS, and it’s been delayed again and again; I’ve officially decided to hold off getting my hopes up too much until I have a better sense of what it is, what it does, and when we’ll get it. (This New York Times story says it’s due in the first half of 2009, so the wait may be considerable even if Palm’s schedule doesn’t slip.)
Over the years, I’ve met with hundreds of companies to be briefed on thousands of new products. People sometimes ask me if I knew any of them was going to be a smash hit before it became one, and I always immediately tell them about seeing the first PalmPilot back in 1995, months before it was released. (It was, incidentally going to be called the Palm Taxi–I’m glad that trademark issues prevented that moniker.)
When I saw that first PalmPilot and imagined the implications and possibilities, it was kind of thrilling. I’d love to feel that way about a Palm product again…and while the Treo Pro is not that product, it’s not a bad stopgap. More thoughts and images from my friend Andrew Carton over at Treonauts.