Microsoft and Palm's Wondrous Offspring

  • Share
  • Read Later

The company formerly known as Palm is Palm again, having ditched that confusing PalmOne moniker at the same time that it pretty well ditched the Palm operating system. Though it still sells many Palm OS devices, its most eagerly anticipated product in years, the Treo 700w, is built around Windows Mobile 5.0. I got my hands on one not too long ago, and I like what I saw.

Like many who appreciated the Palm OS, I was a little leery of Palm's new promise, merely to add value to Microsoft's widely used platform. However, the bonus features Palm has built into the new Treo add up to a whole new, improved version of Windows Mobile. Earlier Windows Mobile devices may have forgotten they were phones; this Treo, like past Treos, puts calling first.

Take, for instance, the Today screen. This one is easy to customize to fit your needs, and Palm has inserted a dial-by-name box and two rows of customizable speed dials. Start tapping in the name of a contact, and within seconds you make your call, right from the screen. Sweeter still is the Photo Speed Dial feature: line up the mugs of your beloveds right on the Today screen, to tap at will. There's also a fully customizable button-style speed dial row.

The new Treo connects to Verizon's BroadbandAccess highspeed wireless data Network — provided, that is, you live in within its service area and have the appropriate plan. It makes sense to have rapid access to the Internet, so the Today screen puts a web-search window within easy reach. The folks at Palm take pride in the fact that Microsoft let them use their first choice of search engine — Google — and I'm pretty happy about that, too.

Palm has also tossed in a few sweet features for you to manage calls. By now, lots of people are abuzz about the fact that there's a simple VCR-style control for managing voicemail with your stylus. The forward, back and repeat commands, along with the necessary save and delete, are represented by tiny icons, so you don't have to wait for the voicemail lady to tell you what to type. It's a simple innovation, but a brilliant one. How about another one? Some people's calls are easy to ignore, but when it comes to spouses and bosses, it might be life-enhancing for you to provide a reason for the blow off. Palm designed the "ignore with SMS" feature for those occasions. It does what it sounds like: broadcasting a short, predetermined message ("I'm feeding the tigers") back to your ignored caller.

Though it's hard to give up an iPod, I am impressed that the Treo supports Windows Media 10 "portable subscription" audio and video. I loaded Neil Diamond's new album that I got from Yahoo! Unlimited, where I have a yearly subscription ($60/year). Though I never purchased the album directly, I am free to carry it with me. Better still, this is one of the only Verizon Wireless phones that lets you set your own music as a ring tone, and I could select not just MP3s and WMAs, but also protected Yahoo! content.

It was when I was loading up the songs that I noticed a funny interface design flaw: Every so often, instead of an X in the upper right hand corner, you see an "OK" which is essentially the same thing: click it and you close your window. There's even an "OK" button on the Treo, which closes whatever you're in, whether or not there's an "OK" to be clicked. This is the problem. As I was choosing songs to use as ringtones, I kept hitting "OK" and nothing happened. After several tries, I noticed that there was a "Select" option at the bottom. All I know is, "Select" and "OK" mean the same thing in my book, so why confuse the matter?

My complaints are fairly routine. I don't like looking at really busy pages, like Amazon's welcome page, on the Internet Explorer browser. Windows Mobile 5.0 still has some compatibility issues that need to be remedied, and one wonders whether mail and instant messaging software from Yahoo! or AOL will ever be brought up to date. If it's out there, it's very hard to find. A helpful resource in this nascent period is the aptly named Windows Mobile 5.0 Fix Site, which tracks everything that's out there, and whether or not you should touch it with a 12-foot pole.

Overall, the pairing seems to be a good one. Palm is bringing some of the warmth of the Palm OS to the coldly businesslike Windows Mobile platform, and getting a ride to the top of the corporate ladder in the process. My guess is that Palm will sell plenty of these, and that Microsoft will be happy about it. That is, unless they don't get into the legal mire that Research In Motion's BlackBerry has been in for a while — in mid December, mobile e-mail software developer Visto sued Microsoft for patent violations, particularly pertaining to Windows Mobile 5.0.