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Palm IIIc Commentary

The Palm IIIc--Timid Colors

by Conrad Blickenstorfer

So Palm, with the typical lag market leaders display towards adopting new technology, has finally gone color. Or at least stuck a toe into this scary new sea. Scary because as far as color goes, the Palm OS is far behind rivaling platforms, and the prospect of doing color right while retaining the Palm's trademark simplicity, speediness, and battery life is daunting.

It's therefore no surprise that Palm's new color IIIc is a timid attempt. Like the Palm VII before it, it avoids undue attention with drab colors and unexceptional design. And the premium price (US$449) underlines that this is just an experiment and not "The New Palm." Even the "IIIc" moniker is reminiscent more of Apple's product nomenclature of yesteryear than the iMac age. All wise moves. Introducing a color device meant to replace the hugely successful base product would have carried the risk of New Coke. Hence, the IIIc's innocuous design and high price make it the perfect limited release concept vehicle to study market reaction and gain experience that will eventually bear fruit in a "real" color Palm.

This is not to say that the IIIc is lacking. The screen, despite the restraints of the Gameboy-like 160 x 160 resolution, is marvelously bright and contrasty. And 3Com/Palm's army of engineers has pulled a techno-Rabbit out of the hat by apparently backing up the bold claim of two weeks of battery life. Power never seems to be a problem, just as it isn't in the Palm VII. And despite foregoing the new 33MHz DragonBall VZ chip in favor of the 20MHz Dragonball EZ also used in the Vx, the IIIc is more than quick enough.

Still, I am not quite sure what Palm is trying to prove. The IIIc is too expensive and not innovative or attractive enough to grab more than a tiny slice of Palm's overall sales. And no one seriously doubted that Palm could do color. So the release of the IIIc is more about bragging rights for the first color Palm among a growing roster of licensees. It also stops mounting criticism over a slate of monochrome-only devices and serves notice that there will be real color Palms in the future.

Until then, the Windows CE-based Cassiopeia E-105 or the HP Jornada 430se offer significantly greater technological value for the dollar.

-Conrad Blickenstorfer

To see the Palm IIIc review, click here.

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