Palm Centro Hits Market Sweet Spot; Making Smartphones Affordable

from the not-dead-yet dept

We’ve been down on Palm Inc. for some time now, as well as its tired OS. Just see any of the recent stories we’ve written here on the subject. Palm, its handheld computers and its OS were once the darlings of the IT world, and universally loved by almost all users. Palm devices performed a few tasks very well in an era where that was cutting edge. Unfortunately, as times moved forward, Palm’s OS did not, and today it performs too few tasks, and performs them not that well. But despite our normal criticisms, this post is about how great the release of the Palm Centro in Europe and on AT&T is for the market. Given the still-tired OS don’t expect cutting edge data applications: the main winning feature of this device is the $100 price tag. That’s important because not every smartphone wannabe-user is ready to deal out the $400 for the entry-level iPhone, and the Centro addresses the millions of potential smartphone buyers that fall below Microsoft’s, RIM’s, Nokia N and E series’ and Apple’s price points. Some of these consumers still want a keyboard, a PIM, e-mail service, a browser, and such, but with a lower budget. Centro will offer that, and will be joined by other future cheap smartphones with Symbian, Android, and other Linux derivatives. By the end of 2008, anyone who wants a smartphone will be able to have one (whether or not it’s from Palm), and that’s a big deal.

An interesting upshot of all this is that, as smartphones start becoming highly affordable, and anyone interested in owning one will do so, that group will also represent just about anybody interested in the mobile Internet and data services. If all these subscribers have devices that enable sideloading and direct installation of third party apps, the “walled garden” strategy will be increasingly futile. Carriers can still have the “carrier deck”, and many customers will use it for convenience, but it will have to compete with off-deck solutions. It’s about time.

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Companies: palm

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Comments on “Palm Centro Hits Market Sweet Spot; Making Smartphones Affordable”

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GeneralEmergency (profile) says:

Yawn...blink, blink...scratch...yawn again.

I am constantly amazed by the VAST number of people who just don’t understand WHY the iPhone has zoomed to….well, iconic stature. And why ANY manufacturer would continue to build phones with tiny little button keys.

It’s not so much how good the phone part of the iPhone software is, its HOW INFURATINGLY AWFUL the TouchTone(TM) keypad of the 60s is to use, when shrunk to MATCHBOOK size as it is on most cell phones and here on the Centro too. The genius of the iPhone is that I virtually NEVER find myself dialing a number digit by annoying digit, but when I do, the 5/8″ by 3/8″ square virtual buttons are a pleasure to dial because they are SO LARGE and responsive and give instant audio dual tone feedback.

In short, I no longer fumble, fidget, mis-key or basically HATE the experience of making a cell call on the iPhone like I did on a LONG string of previous cell phones.

People who think they can convince market share loads of consumers to trade a lower price point for a constant, annoying and frustrating experience are just plain fooling themselves.

Greg (user link) says:

Re: Yawn...blink, blink...scratch...yawn again.

I don’t know, I have a Motorola Q, and while it’s pretty “dumb” by smartphone standards, I certainly don’t have any problems with the keypad.

Not saying I don’t understand the appeal of the iPhone, but the tactile feedback on the Q is more than enough to make up for the size of the keys.

Centro user says:

Re: Yawn...blink, blink...scratch...yawn again.

I am a Centro user and have been since December. You complain about how small the button on dialing are.. Have you even used a Centro? I use it every day and they keyboard howerver small becomes second nature after using it for just a while. I don’t even notice that is that small anymore and use it to type email ect every day. Also for dialing I have assigned the keyboard keys to do my dialing for instance to dial my wife I hold down the W button for about 1.5 seconds and it then starts dialing same with calling my mother M button ect… For dialing numbers that are not in my contact list there is an onscreen dialpad with reletively large number in which you can touch the screen and dial that way. For all you Centro haters out there. Pick one up and try it for a while and you will see why the phone is amazing for the price point. Love it and won’t give it up.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yawn...blink, blink...scratch...yawn again.

Personally, I HATE touchscreen phones with a passion. Just like you happen to HATE small buttons, I would never, ever buy a phone if it did not have a real keypad.

Oh, and I’d never buy an iPhone because, with that large glass screen, it would last about five minutes. I’ve dropped my last 3 smartphones more than I care to think and have left my current phone on the roof of my car more than once, only to see it bouncing down the road in my rear view mirror…. It survived with just a few scratches.

So, to each his own.

Jeff (profile) says:

I received a Centro in December. For the first time in my life, I find myself text messaging. How much do I like the Centro? Not much. The keyboard is too small for my fingers. The touch screen doesn’t always work. The screen is too small. The browser sucks. The email client won’t work with Google Mail(IMAP). I have a relative that works for Sprint so I’m on the unlimited data plan very cheaply. But I plan to switch to the next generation iPhone whenever it comes out. I need better browsing capabilities.

Shane says:

A little late to the Party

I have to say that this is a bit late to the party. I know that there is a ton of press around any AT&T launch but come on. Smartphones have been available for more than a year at the $100 price point. Everyone is doing it from Palm to Windows Mobile to even BlackBerry. What will be most interesting is how the Smartphones are influenced to change by the new crop of not so forgiving or tech-savvy consumers (which I hope happens fast). There is not much excuse for a feature filled phone to not have a full QWERTY, on screen or off, aside from the core group of users that want simple phones (and that doesn’t mean iPhone because it is far from simple). Humans need tactile feedback and physical keys make the most sense to give that to customers, how they make the keys do what they do (Maximus Keyboard) is where the industry will go. People want phones that work, that they can understand, and can do the things they need without seeming to focus on the things they don’t need. If the iPhone was not also an iPod would it be nothing more than an expensive novel phone interface?

An example of what the Smartphone world (and OS makers) have to look forward to:
In a Sprint store in February of 2007 when the Moto Q Smartphone was going for $75. The line of people was out the door, all clutching their everyday simple clamshell phones. As folks were getting contacts transfered and phones setup, I overheard several folks ask about where they could get their old ringtones or poker game. The answer was these phones don’t work that way, and they don’t without a significant amount of technical knowhow.

I know that the tech-savvy want features and a ton of wow factor, and face it most of the spending by the mobile industry is for those customers and dollars. But the real bread and butter is in everyday folks that want their phone to work, be easy to use, be affordable, and open the opportunity for them to possibly grow a little (say google maps, or search, or text messaging, even a picture once in a while). Make devices that do that well and you will gain critical mass even if you don’t gain the praise of the tech-savvy.

Sea Man says:

QWERTY buttons FTW

Anyone who has ever used a touchscreen keypad and a button keypad knows that the button keypad is superior. The “tiny” buttons don’t feel as tiny as they look and provide tactile feedback and sightless navigation. I can pretty much type into my Treo without looking at the phone (and often do, for instance, whilst driving). I will not hold my breath for the day when that is possible using a touchscreen keypad. For this aspect, the iPhone is a failure.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:


You are correct that I should have mentioned Sprint in the article. Although the impact of the device on Sprint CDMA is far less significant than the global launch on GSM. However, the Sprint launch is relevant, earlier, and therefore should have been noted.

As for the Apple discussions, is this really the place to debate iPhone versus everything else? iPhone is great, has HUGE impact on the indusgry, and I wrote exactly that a month before the device was launched. However, as a fanboy, do you really think everyone wants to drop $500 on a phone? Many will, most won’t. Of the Billion-plus phones sold every year, how many will be iPhones? Let’s stay on topic.

The market has demand for various levels of functionality, and at various price points. Smartphone functionality moving down to the $100 and less price range is the significant change that I was writing about.

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