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.