Once you’ve had a good experiences with a line of products or a particular manufacturer, it’s hard not to develop some loyalty, whether that loyalty is based on reliability, functionality, innovation, or aesthetics. I was an early adopter of the original U.S. Robotics Palm Pilot. My first PDA was the original Palm device. For several years, I upgraded each time a new Palm PDA was released and sold my older model on Amazon Auctions or eBay. When I bought my first Pocket PC device, I almost felt a twinge of betrayal (almost – but I got over it quickly).
That was a long time ago, though. Like many of us, I’ve watched Palm’s fortunes dwindle over the past few years. The innovation and evolution that was characteristic of the early days of the platform began to slow. Engadget even wrote an open letter to Palm expressing concern.
So when Palm announced the Pre, and I read the reactions of those who were at Palm’s keynote or had the chance to see demonstrations of the Pre, I became excited. Yes! They’re back!
Yet, the more I thought about it, the less excited I was, at least for reasons of brand loyalty. Does this device have anything in common with the devices that excited me so much in the past? The OS is completely different. Will I recognize anything about it that will remind me of the older Palms’ simple, user-friendly OS? It doesn’t seem likely. Not that Garnet wasn’t in need of a drastic update. It didn’t handle multimedia all that smoothly and just wasn’t as robust as current mobile operating system are. Palm eventually introduced Windows Mobile on their hardware in order to stay in the market. WebOS seems like the great step forward that needed to be taken by the company, but it’s not the next step forward in terms of the Palm OS – it’s new from the ground up and a whole different animal.
There’s nothing aesthetically about the Pre that ties it to past Palm devices. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice looking handheld. Early Palm devices were somewhat clunky looking. Later devices became homogenized (the T5, the E2) or failed to evolve much from their original keyboard-driven design (the Treo series). The Pre’s slider design is a welcome change.
Still, I was on the fence.
Then came the announcement last week that there will be an emulator for older Palm software. The emulator was developed by MotionApps and actually involved close coordination with Palm in order to make it work smoothly within the WebOS environment.
Now I’m excited again. Now there’s a connection to the company’s history, but not something that gets in the way of moving forward. Heck, now I can use that one Palm budgeting program for which after 9 years I’ve never been able to find a suitable replacement on another platform. The existence of an emulator and seeming endorsement by Palm itself is recognition that not all that existed in the past is invalid. It means that the new device has more in common with past devices than just branding.
Perhaps, more importantly, though, working with MobileApps on the emulator is also a great gesture to Palm’s loyal consumer base. Who hasn’t been frustrated by manufacturers who make such complete changes to their products that one cannot use existing accessories or software? How many times have manufacturers (including Palm) changed their connector types such that you aren’t able to use accessories you already own? This gesture is a recognition that there are many past Palm users who invested extensively in Palm OS software, some of which they may still find valuable and they don’t want to be forced to buy all new programs. This is the kind of action that helps build loyalty.