New Zires; PalmOne’s upgrade path

Also this morning, there are two new Zire-branded handhelds from PalmOne:

  • The Zire 31, a low-end handheld with 16 MB of RAM and a low-resolution (160×160) colour screen. US$149/C$229. Brighthand review.
  • The Zire 72, which replaces last year’s Zire 71. It bumps up the camera resolution to 1.3 megapixels and adds video support (not Mac supported). It also bumps up the memory to 32 MB and adds Bluetooth (yay!) and a voice recorder. It ditches the 71’s sliding mechanism that revealed the camera. But it also ditches the Universal Connector: a bummer for anyone who already has accessories. So that rules it out for us; otherwise, this would have been a perfect handheld. (Not that I’m seriously considering replacing my Tungsten T2, but had this handheld existed when I was shopping, I would have given it serious consideration, and the lack of a Universal Connector would have been a serious drawback.) US$299/C$449. Brighthand review, PalmInfocenter review.

Somewhat off-topic. The Palm OS version number on these handhelds is 5.2.8. Upgrades are the purview of the hardware manufacturers, not PalmSource (the OS company), and I’m not sure what PalmOne wants its installed base to do. They haven’t released any OS upgrades since 4.1 — you’re stuck on 5.0 if you have an original Tungsten T, for example — so they may implicitly want you to buy a new handheld to get the latest OS features. (The upgrades to the calendar and address book apps are ideal for their OS X equivalents, Address Book and iCal, what with the multiple calendar categories, address book photos, and birthdays, so of course I want to lay hands on them.)

But so many of the new handhelds lack the Universal Connector: all the Zires (except the just-discontinued Zire 71) and the Tungsten E. Anyone with a Universal Connector equipped handheld — say, the m500 series — who wants, say, a Zire 72 will have to ditch any accessories (the landline modem, the original keyboard) bought for the original gadget. Generally speaking the handhelds lacking the connector are entry-level devices: no one is going to “upgrade” from an m515 to a Zire 21. But it’s possible that someone might replace a broken m515 with a Tungsten E, and the camera-equipped Zires have definite upgrade appeal, if I’m any indication (see above). So I’m surprised that they left it out.

This may not apply to enough people for PalmOne to worry about it, but I do wonder about the upgrade path for existing users, whether it’s software or hardware. Palm originally offered regular OS upgrades at the very least. “Buy everything new again” is not something that would please a customer; it might even cost sales.