It’s no big secret among those who know me that I’m a gadget freak. Even if I hadn’t spent my entire adult life in the computer industry, I would still love things that work and gadgetry in general: a point of view that usually makes my computer configurations as well as my wood-shop configuration and my choices in cars pretty up-to-date, well-equipped, and sophisticated.
When I attended the Demo Conference in 1996, Jeff Hawkins launched the original Palm Pilot, and I was one of the many there who bought one on the spot. Who wouldn’t have? We (gadget freaks, that is) had all been looking for a pocket organizer, and we each had a drawer full of the industry’s flawed and failed attempts at such a device. And there stood Hawkins showing us — and selling us — one that actually worked!
So of course we bought them up, and from that point on, despite a brief side trip to Windows-equipped handhelds, I’ve been a loyal Palm user. In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve also been a cell phone user since the days when you had to bolt the unit in the trunk of your car, take half the interior apart to run wires through to the handset, and screw an antenna into the roof — and I bought one of the first pocket cell phones a few years later. I’ve had a digital camera since they were invented, and I’ve carried a laptop for e-mail and office work since I got my much-loved Tandy TRS-80 Model 100 in 1984. I need to also mention that I have a digital lockbox key for entering houses during my occasional forays into the real estate business.
So it was something of a mystery to me, and to everyone who knows me, that I resisted for so long the temptation to get a Treo, Palm’s integrated smartphone that combines basic PDA software with a cell phone, a digital camera, a Web browser, and an e-mail client. A big part of the problem was timing, and another part was cost. I also have to admit to a certain amount of simple inertia.
The early Treos weren’t all that good, so at about the time they came out I replaced my dead Palm V with a Sony Clie. That was still functioning well when it became time to upgrade to a camera-equipped cell phone, so I bought an LG 6000. When it was time to upgrade my aging Olympus C-2000 digital camera, I got an Olympus C-7000.
During most of that time, upgrading my cell phone to a Treo without changing service providers would have cost me nearly $700, so I didn’t have much incentive to do it. And I was unwilling to jump ship, because I use the only provider with consistently good service in this area. Besides, I was waiting to see what the Windows Pocket PC-based Treo 700W would be like. And despite occasional bursts of jealousy when meeting up with someone sporting a Treo, I was being lazy about it
Then three things happened at about the same time. First, my cell phone account came due for the sort of major upgrade that brought the price of a Treo down to about $200. Second, many reviewers I know and admire soundly trounced the Treo 700W, because the Windows software complicated an otherwise simple-to-use device. And third, my local real estate board upgraded its lockbox system to one that allowed me to turn in my lockbox key and use a Treo instead.
Suddenly, buying a Treo 650 was a no-brainer for me. After using it for a few weeks, I’ve been busy creating a large flat spot above my eyes where I keep smacking myself in the head while saying, “Jeez, why didn’t I do this before?!”
Some important reasons for the flat spot are that four devices became one. I know that for those of you who aren’t real estate agents or don’t use another infrared device that can be replaced by a Treo, that would probably be three devices, but it is still a win by any measure. Second, the Treo 650 not only works, it works well, especially because adding a keyboard to a Palm-driven device vastly improves the business of using it.
Probably the best example I can give is looking up a phone number. I was never more than “sort of good” at the stylus-driven Graffiti writing system used in traditional Palm machines, but trying to scribble something on the tiny writing screen while driving, or even while conversing in a restaurant, is damned near impossible for me. With the Treo, you need type only a few letters, often only two, to find the number you want. And by the way, every contact in my Outlook database is in my Treo, which means I no longer have to worry that I don’t have someone’s number who I need to call while out of the office.
The rest of the Treo works well, too. Much to my surprise, the Web browser can be useful, and having an active e-mail client while crossing San Francisco Bay on the ferry or leaving a meeting far from my desk and nowhere near an Internet connection is terrific. Adding the General Electric Supra Palm-based eKey system used for opening lockboxes gives me real estate capabilities so far beyond the traditional key-based system that I’m planning an article on it in SmartCompany.com for all you real estate agents out there.
At this point the only things I’m unhappy about are that I didn’t do this sooner, and the resulting flat spot on my forehead, which has my wife a bit worried. And, by the way, it’s nice to be using an industry standard that didn’t come from the Pacific Northwest.