January 02, 2001, 1:08 PM — SOMETIMES PALM REMINDS me of the children's story "The Little Engine That Could." The little locomotive didn't think it was powerful enough to make it up the hill, but it kept saying to itself, "I think I can. I think I can. I think I can." And slowly its iron wheels churned their way up the steep incline.
The hill for Palm is the corporate world.
Palm was not designed for corporate applications, networks, firewalls, or remote-systems management. Rather it was designed as a personal tool to keep track of contacts and appointments. Yet if the Palm is to enter the enterprise through the front door rather than the back, it must be a team player.
In an interview I conducted, Palm co-founder Jeff Hawkins told me that when he was designing the first Palm, he was mainly concerned with creating an electronic device that could outperform pen-and-paper organizers. Hawkins timed users looking up contacts and entering appointments to get it right, and gauging from the success of his device, I guess he did.
But so far attempts to marry Palm's built-in limitations with corporate-like capabilities has led to some kludgey solutions. Take, for example, the Mobile Internet Kit. For $39.95 you get a cable plus software that connects a Palm through the synchronization port to a cell phone. But cables are available only for certain cell phones. You can also link the two devices via infrared if the cell phone has infrared. Using the ISP on the handset, Palm V users can now have a wireless connection to the somewhat limited Palm VII Web Clipping functions, or they can use the Palm to send and receive short messages through the handset. This is not ideal.
But the little engine is working its way up the hill.
In the second half of 2001 there will be new Palm models with integrated wireless service. Finally users will have an always-on device that can, among other things, automatically receive notification of e-mail.
"It is like the antenna is always up," said Dan Glessner, in the business and government division of Palm, referring to the Palm VII model where users need to deploy the antenna before polling for e-mail.
What the service still won't do is automatically download e-mail. This is a limitation of the radio in the device. (Please do not send an e-mail my way informing me that this or that PDA already has that capability. I'm speaking to the 9 million Palm users, some of whom might like to wait rather than switch.)