Sunday, October 10, 2004

T5 Fury

When PalmOne announced their upcoming and much anticipated T5, it wasn't news. What was news was the furious reaction toward it by elite and power users. At last count, there were 500+ comments at PalmInfocenter, most of them negative. What could engender such passion? Complaints weren't solely about specifications; barbs were also directed at marketing and price.

The recurring themes include:

  • no Cobalt
  • no Wifi
  • no metal shell
  • at $399 too expensive
  • not worthy of the Tungsten T flagship moniker
While the merits of these complaints are debatable, the disappointment in the Palm community is real. And the good points to the T5 don't seem to assuage their hurt:
  • tablet design
  • large memory store (256MB)
  • flash memory retains data even when batteries run down
  • accessible as a usb drive
The target audience for this device appears to be data-centric people: corporate users who have lots of Word and Excel documents, and healthcare professionals who need lots of reference material on hand.

Perhaps the vocal users on PalmInfocenter are neither corporate nor healthcare, but I do think they have divined correctly the source of their disappointment -- that the T5 is not the successor to the T3, but is actually the successor to the Tungsten E.


PalmOne probably has good reasons for this marketing strategy, which unfortunately, I am not privy to. Nevertheless, I will make an effort at deconstruction. According to the administrator at PalmInfocenter, the TE was PalmOne's top seller since its release last year. The tablet form factor contributed to its popularity, whereas the slider mechanism on the T3 and its predecessors have always been controversial.


PalmOne is a small company with limited resources, and thus, re-using the popular TE platform makes economic sense. Engineering, quality assurance, and manufacturing processes need only be tweaked rather than, had the design been entirely new, reworked. Yet, the decision also limits the feature set. The T5 doesn't have vibrating alarms and voice recording because the TE didn't have them. Retrofitting them would increase cost and delay the product.


So why did PalmOne market this device as the T5 instead of the TE2? I am speculating here, but it may have something to do with upgradeability to Cobalt. PalmOne has made no announcements of any kind regarding upgradeability, but in terms of hardware, the T5, T3, and TC can handle the demands of Cobalt. But the T5, with newer hardware, can probably be upgraded with lower support costs than the T3 or TC. Remember, PalmOne is a small company and can be stretched only so far.


Thus, if you could only afford to upgrade one device in your product line, which would it be? I'd say it should be your flagship device -- the model that appeals to your power users, the model your customers paid the most for. A device named TE2 would not be perceived as a flagship product and upgrading it to Cobalt while ignoring the T3 would make PalmOne's leading constituents feel abandoned. Ergo, we have the T5, which has the Tungsten name, the Tungsten price tag, some interesting features, but sadly, not the Tungsten pedigree.