Abhi 2.0 on Technology

Abhimanyu Radhakrishnan’s Tech Archive: Columns, reports and video

Tech Tonic # 5: The Mythical Centro-Q

with 3 comments

 Tech Tonic 5

The PDA-phone market is going to be a two-way race in 2008 as Apple’s iPhone takes RIM’s Blackberry head-on both in the corporate-IT and in the consumer tech space. Surprisingly the pioneers of both the PDA and the mobile phone – Palm and Motorola respectively, are struggling since neither managed to merge the two categories together as succesfully as the (relative) newcomers.

However, earlier this week, two PDA-phones from these fallen legends landed on my desk for review. One was the Moto Q8 and the other the Palm Centro. The first thing that struck me even before I opened the boxes was the price. Both these full-keyboard phones are priced at around Rs.14,000! That’s a good 10k less than the (hacked) iPhone or the Blackberry Curve. After exactly, half an hour of probing each device, it suddenly struck me: “Oh My God! Palm and Motorola should.. like …totally merge dude!”

I’m no investment banker and am barely familiar with the financials of either company. I have no clue about valuations, strategic fit, anti-trust implications, blah blah. I’m just a long-time fan of both companies’ products and as a consumer I would LOVE to see ‘MotoPalm’ emerge as the third player, who according to the “Rule of Three” management mantra, will shake-up the market in style!

Just hear me out on this. The Palm Centro is the most compact smartphone with a full QWERTY keyboard that I have ever seen. It’s not particularly slim, but neither is it a brick. My first thought on seeing the tightly packed keys was, “No way my fingers are going to handle this.” Surprisingly, not only are the keys beautifully beveled, they also provide the softest, yet most tactile feel on any phone keyboard in the market. There are lots of nice touches that can only come from a company that knows its users well. Let me give you two quick examples. The biggest problem I face when using touchscreen phones is that my earlobes keep pressing on the screen and often end up deleting contacts or setting off alarms – its eerie! Sure, in some phones, you can turn the screen off just after dialing or taking a call but thats painful. The Centro has a simple setting that allows you to lock the screen whenever you’re in a call. Next, I work in television so I’m often rushing into a studio and fumbling last minute to silence my phone, lest it ring during a live recording. “Unlock keyboard.. whats the key combo?? drat! ok, find ‘profiles’ in the menu, activate ‘silent’ … woops in a hurry I pressed “loud” … too late .. cameras rolling… I’m done for!” Palm pioneered the physical silent-switch on the outside that just puts all sound off with one slide of a button. I love it – no wonder Apple copied it on the iPhone!

The Moto Q8 on the other hand is the slimmest Windows Mobile ever. In spite of having a full keyboard it’s way thinner than nearly all Windows phones that don’t have keyboards! Do you see what I’m getting at? The Centro’s keyboard on the Q’s ultra-thin body with a silent-switch thrown in could be the ultimate smartphone!

What software will this as yet mythical phone run? Palm’s hived-off software division was acquired by a company called Access which has turned the once proprietary Operating System (OS) into a Linux-based open-source platform. The Centro is among the first phones to use this new Linux-based OS. Motorola has thrown everything and the kitchen sink at its phones as far as software is concerned. It has made phones running its own OS, Palm, Symbian, Windows and pioneered mainstream mobile Linux resulting in current models such as the MotoMING. It also acquired a company called Good which is basically makes messaging software that competes with Blackberry, and from what I’ve heard, is superior if not as good in most aspects. With both companies having great Linux-on-smartphone experience, they’re best positioned to use Google’s upcoming Android mobile OS that promises to liberate phones and make them more like PCs.

Anyway, while “researching” some facts for this column, I was dismayed to learn that my brilliant merger idea was not original by a long shot! Half the corporate world seems to be clamouring for Motorola to acquire Palm. As of writing this piece, no such thing has happened though by the time you see this in print, MotoPalm may be for real. However, if you see a Centro-Q running Android in the near future, please do contact me and volunteer your services as a court witness when I sue the new entity for royalty.

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Written by Abhi 2.0

April 6, 2008 at 11:15 pm

3 Responses

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  1. The idea is definitely interesting and does merit further thought. Personally, I hate phones with touchscreens as the only UI, cos I’m used to using my phones without looking at them… after 2-3 weeks with a phone, you really don’t need to actually look at the screen to do most tasks. So the combo of a touchscreen and a full keyboard is ideal for me.

    Having used several Moto models, I can say that Motorola doesn’t entirely deserve the bad press it gets. The problem is the old jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none thing.. trying to support multiple OSs and technologies, Moto has not been able to refine it’s phones very well. This is also to some extent due to the fact that the cellphone business is not Motorola’s prime division. They focus more on making military comms, telecom infrastructure and the like, so the phone division is gets stepmotherly treatment. Every phone they release these days seems to have one major flaw that seals it’s fate. Their phones lacked a consistency of user experience.

    Looking at it from the business standpoint, Moto is not likely to acquire anything in the near future. The company is to be split into two divisions, one selling mobiles and the other infra /networking gear. Perhaps under the right CEO, they’ll be able to get their act back together. For further info, check this link:

    http://www.engadget.com/2008/03/26/motorola-insider-tells-all-about-the-fall-of-a-technology-icon

    Aditya

    April 9, 2008 at 1:03 am

  2. And what if Videocon buys it???

    Imagine what a strategic tangle they will be in … I mean on one hand their brand ambassador is SRK but Moto’s is AB Jr!! OMG … the deal will fall through just because of that even if all financials are perfect 😀

    Abhi

    April 9, 2008 at 1:57 am

  3. I believe next one year or so is gonna be pretty interesting for the Telecom world.There are new entrants & players which have existed undercover for decades are gonna come centrestage.Im talking about AT&T,BT & some more biggies who are looking forward to entering the mobile telephony & value added services market.With 74% FDI allowed in telecom,all they need is a domestic partner & d rite plans.Hope they move into 3G too cos thats their expertise.

    Guess

    April 9, 2008 at 1:58 am


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