Enter Brandzilla

By eweek  |  Posted 2003-04-25 Print this article Print

By then, Sony had entered the game, and Handspring was simply being outspent, outdesigned and outsold. Handspring pronounced the PDA market dead and announced that it would henceforth produce only "communicators." (Dont tell anyone, but those are just wireless PDAs.) Now Handspring was going from a market with just two strong brands to one with several—Nokia, Motorola, Samung, Sanyo, Ericsson, not to mention the carriers themselves—and in a market that was far more mature. How could it compete? Pretty darn well, it turned out. The Treo was not quite a home run, but as its name implied, it was a solid triple; it certainly should earn a place in mobile history as the first usable hybrid device. Handspring brilliantly borrowed from the industrial design of Nextel phones of the day in order to gain phone "cred"; previous efforts like those from Qualcomm looked like Palm IIIs with flip-out microphones.
Handspring also included a keyboard that, while stepping over the boundary of usability for my fleshy fingers, informed the Palm world of what Blackberry users already knew – thumbboards kick Graffitis putt. (Sorry, that was a handwriting-recognition error.) The Treo was also surprisingly small and light, had adequate memory, and gained color before too long.
It was also the first Palm OS-based phone to be available in either CDMA or GSM versions. Apart from the keyboard, and a learning curve that included too many obscure keyboard shortcuts for my taste, the only nice-to-haves it was missing were a battery that outlived the average character on "24" and Bluetooth, which was probably still a bit too immature at the time. Handspring had successfully transitioned to a cell phone company in terms of product but not in terms of product development. The next step in the evolution of the Treo is due this fall. It may well address the shortcomings of the last Treo, the fundamentals of which were sound, or break out in an entirely new industrial design, like the Nokia 6800. Given Sprint PCSs imaging push, it will likely have an integrated camera. But technology wont be the main success factor for the next Treo. Having learned the lesson of competing against better-funded giants, Handsprings getting smarter. In a sense, it is learning that its not what you know, but whom.

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