Monday, January 26, 2009

Palm Prē’s “double-edged sword” design

"double–edged sword": something that has or can have both favorable and unfavorable consequence (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

A bit by bit, the mysteries behind Palm’s decision on the design of the Prē™ are being revealed one by one. The first ray of light to shed on why Palm decided to ditch microSD slot from the Prē™ was explained by Palm Product Manager (and also a tech lover and a toy maker) Matt Crowley in a Facebook chat, in there he pointed out clearly that the decision was made to achieve the best design for the Prē™.

Here’s a snipped line of what Matt has said: “The physical size of the device would have been compromised if we added another physical component to Pre. Just a millimeter can seriously impact the curvature of the design in a way that minimizes the design intent. We wanted to maintain a slick curved slider design without building out too much thickness.”

If design was the priority, then it’s hard to argue further since it has became: ‘function follows fashion’. Not the other way around, where Palm devices were seen not as pretty as other slicker and slimmer devices with similar function out there in the market. So this means the look is now more important than what’s inside, that’s the trend right now and whether like it or not Palm have to follow suit. But is such sacrifice really worth it for Palm?

Yes I believe so, sacrifices need to be made in order to make the perfect “iPhone-killer”. Ever since iPhone 3G introduced, Apple has set the standards in creating the ultimate mobile device which has the sex appeal for both male and female users. All of the latest mobile features are jammed-tight into that sleek iPhone 3G body, without giving up the beauty of the device design itself.

A nearly identical feature between the Prē™ and iPhone 3G is the 8GB embedded storage, that quickly draws plenty of prickly comments on how the storage is not enough for heavy-weight users. But Palm didn’t follow iPhone’s design on the battery, because the Prē™ has a removable battery that can be easily accessed by opening up the back cover. If my memory serves me well, Jon Rubinstein called it with “comes back by demand,” during Prē™ announcement at CES 2009.

Palm Prē™ is rumored to use the same battery as Centro’s: 1150mAH (or even smaller), which is considered not juicy enough to power up the full featured webOS™ with all of its gorgeous UI. This of course raises questions, and Palm’s answer is like mentioned above: removable battery.

Pre removable batteryA removable battery is also Palm’s answer to the iPhone 3G users who often feel the battery is drained too fast, like what our own PA Sub-Editor Steven Hough had experienced himself when he took a vacation with his wife to a museum. For heavy mobile users and road warriors, having one or two spare batteries ready is a must to bring everyday-everywhere. And with all of your digital life in your palm, you don’t want it to run out of juice when you needed it the most, no?

But a removable battery design also takes a tiny-bit of extra bulk to the Prē’s™ physical, no matter how careful Palm has designed the back cover, the whole opening-closing mechanism must take some space. So if Palm Prē™ has the same fixed battery like iPhone 3G’s, then it might be possible the Prē™ can become thinner than what we’re seeing today. This time, Palm has taken function over fashion.

Matt also talk about Prē’s™ 3.5mm common headset jack, which if Prē™ to use a non-standard 2.5mm jack used in other phones then it also helps to make it a bit thinner. And the reason of keeping the 3.5mm headset jack is very essential: “We wanted the customer ( included) to be able to plug their standard noise-cancelling Bose headset into their Pre on a plane and rock out. No funky adapter needed; it should just work.”

”We kept asking: What if we curved it here? What if we had a unique part made to fit? What if...? Finally we came to a solution and balanced the efficiency of the speakerphone air space, and we made a unique 3.5mm headset part to match the curve of the Pre design,” Matt explained.

So in the end of the day, Palm got to make a choice. It’s not an easy one, well not just one but many of them. There’s no such thing as a finish design, there’ll always another new and better designs to come up with tomorrow. And I think Matt has said it better: “Creating an amazing product is always a tough exercise in the delicate art of managing tradeoffs.”

Now it’s up to us, mobile users to make our decision. Did Palm make the right tradeoffs with Prē’s™ design?

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