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Palm Responds to Open Letter

Wed Dec 13, 2006 - 9:23 PM EST - By Dieter Bohn

Overview

First, a brief history

In an article on November 30th, I pointed out a TreoCentral forum thread wherein user Bob-C posted an open letter to Ed Colligan about some 700p bugs and many users' frustration over them. Many of the power users here on our boards were experiencing certain bugs related to Bluetooth, audio stutter, and lag while switching apps. These users were hoping to get more open communication from Palm about these bugs as well as future updates. In the letter, Bob-C wrote:

Implementing a policy of communication, trust and partnership with your customers would be beneficial for everyone. All it would take is a communication of a fix availability timetable on your part.

In the article discussing the letter and the surrounding issues, I went into detail about my thinking about this but I'll just reiterate one point here. Ultimately I signed the letter, writing:

By doing so I'm not claiming I know that there are bugs or saying I'd be outraged if Palm isn't able to communicate more about future updates. Instead, I'm expressing a hope that Palm can have a more human voice.

Palm's Response

Palm's Steve Sinclair, Senior Product Manager for Palm OS Wireless Products, has responded with this letter. In the letter Sinclair addresses the forum users' concerns and complaints directly and, if I may be so bold, in that "human voice" I was hoping for. You'll definitely want to read the whole thing.

Here's the short version: Yes, Palm is listening and they were well before I posted the letter on the front page. Yes, they're in a relatively tough position when it comes to communicating about bugs and future updates -- primarily because of their carrier relationships. Despite that, Sinclair does acknowledge these bugs and that Palm is currently working on a ROM update to fix them. Putting a date on this ROM update is tough (for those carrier reasons), but the current target is Q1 2007.

Sinclair goes into some detail about these bugs. Specifically: testing Bluetooth compatibility is a hassle (my own words there), the audio lag appears to occur because certain other phone functions take priority, and the lag in app switching is sometimes more noticeable than on the 650.

However, according to Sinclair these bugs do not seem to affect the vast majority of Palm's 700p customers. That adds another layer of hesitancy about communicating about bugs, actually. Sinclair writes:

It's a tough balancing act to decide what to flag or acknowledge because not all customers experience an issue or experience it in the same way. Communication to some customers can be calming, while it can be alarming to other customers who haven't experienced an issue (and maybe never will).

Some Thoughts

This issue of "corporate communication" is going to be one of Palm's toughest challenges in the coming year. What's happening, especially now with the new Treo 680 marketing push, is that Palm is no longer just speaking to a certain set of people (normally business users), but instead to a whole series of groups: casual users, power users, cellular carriers, investors, ..I could go on. As Sinclair notes in his letter, easing the minds of power users might unnecessarily worry a casual user and thereby cause headaches for the carriers who support them.

Nevertheless, Sinclair provides some great information about these bugs. After reading, here's my take on the bugs. Don't forget that I'm no engineer.

Bluetooth: I've pretty much come to the conclusion that the "Bluetooth Standard" is anything but "standard." Seems like even simple phones these days have surprising gaps in their compatibility lists. Additionally, Palm faces some special hurdles that "dumbphone" makers don't necessarily face. First up is that the Treo has to make the PDA's processor, different types of cellular radios, and the Bluetooth chipset all play nice. Most phones have just one chip or two chips to handle that. Add the much-maligned (yet also loved) "FrankenGarnet" to the mix and you start to get a feel for the hurdles here. Still - Bluetooth should be a priority, it's pretty much industry standard these days. I'm glad to see that bugfixes are en route.

Audio Stutter and App-Switching Lag: I'm grouping these two together because I suspect that they're related. This is actually the big surprise for me. There are certain cases (like switching apps) where the 700p actually seems slower than the 650. Though Sinclair doesn't get into it, I've read elsewhere that the 700p has different memory management than the 650. Why the different memory management? Well, Sinclair does note that it's "partly a result of the shared hardware design between the Treo 700p and the 700wx." That's interesting - it probably kept the price of the 700p down. I also suspect, though I can't say for sure, that finding a way to get the PalmOS to deal with memory in a more modern way was probably a goal for the 700p.

Frankly, folks, I'm way out of my technical league here - but I'm starting a new forum thread about this article so maybe somebody can help me out. In any case, the app-switching pause seems to not bother the majority of Palm's users. For the rest of us, Palm is working on optimizations (especially as regards that audio stutter issue) for their ROM release that, carriers allowing, we should see in Q1 2007.

Conclusion

Kudos to the TreoCentral forum members (especially Bob-C!) who "rallied" around the issue. Kudos also to Palm for acknowledging these issues despite the fact that (from Palm's larger perspective) they mainly affect a small core of power users. I don't want to get all misty-eyed here, but I'd have to say that things have turned out rather well.

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