Sony recently announced that it will exit the PDA marketplace in the United States. Analysts and tech writers who don’t look any further simply see a BIG electronics player leaving, and immediately start predicting the death of the Palm OS platform and PDAs, in favor of smartphones.
First of all, as Brighthand Editor-In-Chief Ed Hardy pointed out recently, smartphones ARE PDAs, but they also have a phone in them. There isn’t really any need for the distinction.
But let’s dig a little deeper into Sony’s failure.
The original Pilot (the second version was called “Palm Pilot”) and all of the Palm OS PDAs released in the early days were incredibly successful because their creator, Jeff Hawkins, had a vision of a simple yet powerful electronic organizer. This is what truly created the market segment that Apple had hoped to create with its failed Newton. Apple tried to put everything into a sub-notebook and, depending on how you look at it, they created an under-powered laptop or an over-sized PDA. In either case, it was a failure. Apple simply didn’t understand the market they were going after.
Sony’s design flaws, and ultimate failure, also came from a misunderstanding of its target audience, as well as poor design. But size wasn’t the problem, rather it was usability by the American consumer.