September 3, 2005
What was I talking about again? Oh, yes, phone. I used to really wuv my Treo, but now I've taken to hating this device, because I've spent a small fortune on it and countless hours, and it has progressively become less and less functional.
When I first bought it, I spent extra to get the "unlocked" version, thinking that I would surely own this lovely Palm longer than I would stay with any particular carrier. I should mention that I haven't owned a Palm in years, because I used to have a beautiful Palm V, made of shiny Titanium or some such. It was a small, gorgeous work of art, made when Palm was at its apex. But it didn't function as a cell phone, and I found I really got tired of having my pockets stuffed with pagers, cell phones, and Palms, so I stopped using the Palm V. And after it Palm released the almost-useless Palm VII, which was ugly, weighed about 700 pounds, and had sort of network access, sort of, but not a phone.
Then they started releasing all these plastic pieces of crap, and licensing their operating system to others so they could release ugly pieces of crap. The amazing thing was that I'd hold up my Palm V and say, "Ok, has anything this beautiful come from Palm or Handspring or Sony in the last seven years?" and the answer would always be, "Oh, no, not really, although we have this ugly piece of crap..."
So I used the calendar and contacts in my cell phones, which synced perfectly with my Mac, and made do with their tiny screens and their no-keyboards.
But, lo, a friend showed me his Palm Treo 650, and it had a beautiful screen, and I saw that it was good. So I bought one.
And the keyboard is surprisingly easy to use.
• It turns out that the built-in e-mail reader, VersaMail, actually doesn't really delete your mail from your IMAP mail servers. Now, I'm not an idiot when it comes to protocols and stuff, and I've tried it with two separate services, and it simply does not work. Oh, sure, there's a PREFERENCE you can set to delete mail from the server when you delete it locally (also: DUH!), and there's a PROMPT, and then it'll go ahead and merrily ignore you and download the same mail and spam you just deleted, over and over. HEY, it turns out THAT IS NOT USEFUL. In fact, it's completely useless for the way I read mail if I can't delete the junk and transfer the good messages to other mailboxes when I've read them. Apparently this mail reader is for people who literally want to only read their mail, and not actually, you know, DO anything with it.
So, I never use that.
I have, honestly, tried to use it several times when I was out, and each time everyone around me has lost patience and gone on with their lives before I found any useful info. It'd be like, "Hey, where's the bar?" "Oh, I'll look it up on the internet..." [5 minutes pass] "Uh, I'm just gonna call 611..." "No, really, the page is coming up! I swear."
None of this is really Palm's fault (unlike the mail-reader that can't delete), but it's still a case of, nice try, but I don't use that.
• The messaging system is really nice, but unlike the Danger, you can't talk to people on AIM, you (and they) have to pay 5 cents a page to talk to each other. So, I do use messaging, and I love the keyboard on the Palm, but it really could stand some improvement.
• Syncing with the Mac was an exercise in arduousness. Certainly, it was possible, with enough time and know-how and installations, to install the Palm Desktop software which I'd never use, and set up a fake Bluetooth to serial line, and install the iSync -> Palm Desktop conduits, and enable them in Palm HotSync Preferences, and disable the Palm Desktop conduits, and get the damn phone to sync, once I'd discovered that the group I was syncing to my phone in Address Book had to contain at least one person, not just other groups, otherwise NONE of the people would sync (unlike with my Motorola and Sony-Ericsson phones). And certainly a lot of this was Apple's fault, but, honestly, Palm should have just said, "Damn, every Mac ships with a built-in, shared calendar program and an address book -- let's chuck this crappy custom stuff we've been making and get our software to work well with what Apple's doing!"
• The phone sound quality was always bad (there was ALWAYS a hiss on the line) and it would periodically just hang up in the middle of a call. It was pretty annoying.
I'd like to mention at this point that Palm just spent a gazillion dollars buying the name "Palm" back from PalmSource (who they just spun off) so they can use the name "Palm" all over. This is one of those Dilbert-style management things, where they're all, "We should spin off our hardware and software! No, wait, buy back the name! No, sell! License the fromjub! Re-org! Capitalize our key assets!"
This is always a bad sign for a company. I'm like: Hey, here's an idea... spend your time and money making your products not suck. Nobody gives a crap if you're called Palm or PalmOne or Pam or Spam. Your asset isn't your name, you dickweeds, it's your reputation for having a cool device, which you are destroying by having the device not be cool any more.
So, now Palm comes out with a firmware update they recommend to everyone. Now, here's where the story really takes a tragic turn. First off, it's not just one firmware update, it's like four of them, and you use a different revision depending on what carrier you use. Confidence-inspiring! Because I'm SURE that there aren't going to be 4x the bugs in four different revisions.
But they recommend everyone upgrade, and say that the sound quality gets better, and mumble about other improvements in mail. Sign me up.
Let's talk about how not to do an upgrade, shall we?
• Don't come out with an upgrade that simply cannot be loaded into the anemic memory you provide for your device without the user deleting the programs that come with the device. That sucks!
• If you go ahead and do the above, then for gosh sakes write a nice custom program on the computer that will unload everything from the device, upgrade it, and then put everything back. Don't just provide instructions on your website on how to create a second, dummy account on your computer to do the syncing with a minimal system install. If you ever find yourself writing an upgrade where EVERY user is going to have to create AN ENTIRE SECOND ACCOUNT JUST TO UPGRADE THEIR STINKING PHONE, you are PROBABLY MAKING A MISTAKE. TAKE SOME OF THE FUCKING MONEY YOU SPENT BUYING THE WORD "PALM" AND SPEND IT ON WRITING AN UPGRADER.
Ok, so after an ENTIRE evening and part of the next afternoon trying, I got my phone upgraded and working again. It had lost all its settings and no longer knew about my computer, which meant I had to set up syncing again. Palm warned me to use the newer version of Palm Desktop with this newer firmware, so I downloaded it, as well, and after dancing the magic dance for about six hours, I had my Palm syncing once again.
Here's the worst part, though: syncing ONLY worked because the computer already knew about the Palm, and was still happy to talk to it, even though the Palm had forgotten about the computer. (If only ex-girlfriends were so forgiving!)
The next week I have a computer crash. I get my drive replaced entirely. Here's where the REAL FUN starts. Obviously, I need Palm Desktop to sync with the Palm again. So I got to palmone.com. Except, wait a minute... the software that they said was REQUIRED to sync with the new version of the Palm is gone. Replaced with a page that says, "Mac users: Sorry, we took the new version down. Just use the version on your CD. Except we told you not to. Good luck!" For the last two weeks, it hasn't been on their web site. TODAY, they've added it back.
Now, again, I'm going to make a short list of things you can do with your money instead of spend it buying the word "Palm":
1) YOU COULD MAKE YOUR SOFTWARE WORK WHEN YOU REQUIRE EVERYONE TO UPGRADE.
2) FOR REAL.
Hmm. Well, problem is solved now, right? Because now I've finally got the new Palm Desktop from Palm, so I can dance the magic dance again (install Palm Desktop, and, under Tiger, just click button to install Apple conduits) and maybe sync.
Except, here's the panel from when I paired my phone with my new Mac:
Hey, be sure to zoom in on that photo. That's right, after the firmware upgrade, there are NO SUPPORTED SERVICES on my Palm. I can't use it as a dial-up modem any more, even though I'm paying extra to get all-you-can-eat data from Cingular. No point in that! And I can't sync with my phone, nor dial with it!
Heck, I'm not even sure why I bothered pairing it with my computer, because it sure as hell can't do shit! What an idiot I am!
Now, this may be Apple's fault. Who knows? Except, here's my logic:
• All these things worked with my Palm and my Mac.
• Palm upgraded the Firmware
• Now none of these things work.
∴ It's Palm's fault.
But, wait, I can still go into iSync on the Mac and tell it to look for devices. Maybe it'll pair up with the phone anyways?
Hah! Denial! It's not just a river in Egypt, that has overflowed for thousands of years and yet still our leader can't grasp the concept of rivers overflowing.
But, hmm. Maybe I can hack around a bit. I run Palm Hotsync Manager, enable the Bluetooth connection, and check the conduit settings. The iSync conduit isn't enabled, since iSync couldn't find the Palm. However, when I enable the conduit, SUCCESS. The Palm shows up in iSync, and I can finally, finally, update my address book and calendar on the Palm. Sure, I still can't use it as a modem, but even getting back basic functionality seems like a godsend after all this time using the Palm as a dumb phone.
And, a dumb phone it is. Because, see, the upgrade woes are not the only problem with the Treo. Sure, with the upgrade, the sound got better, but here are some other fun fone features:
• If you don't disable the touchscreen when you're on a call (using preferences), you'll press the "hold" soft-button with your cheek. A LOT. A WHOLE LOT. EVERY SINGLE CALL, EVEN. There's no way to know you've done this if you're talking, so you'll just talk and talk for a while and then finally notice the person isn't responding, and then when you look at your phone you notice they've been on hold this whole time, and since they don't know why it suddenly went silent, they'll have hung up. But if you DO disable the touchscreen, well, you can't touch the buttons and put people on hold and the like.
• About half of the time now, my phone rings once and then instantly sends the person calling me to voicemail, with no record that anyone called. Not in the logs or anything. Which is amazing to me, because I'm like, "Hey, didn't you just ring? How come there's no log of an incoming call?" And the phone is all, "Ring? I'm not sure what you're talking about?" And I'm all, "Well, it seems awfully suspicious that I THOUGHT I heard a ring just now, and now, 20 seconds later, you're telling me I have new voicemail, but you never told me I had an incoming call, and it's not in the log." And the phone is all, "¿Que? No habla englais."
Now, admittedly, this happens a lot when the phone is in my pocket, so possibly my pocket is magically always pressing whatever button is set to "send this to voicemail and also forget you ever received it." And if it's my pocket doing it, you might call this user error, except, you know, I'd would ALMOST THINK that a phone would be DESIGNED to come out of a pocket while ringing and NOT HANG UP on the person calling. Because, see, this is amazingly annoying. I've had entire days where no calls get through, and I have to check voicemail every couple minutes. EXCEPT...
• The touch-tone keypad often sends double digits when you press a single digit key, on either the touch screen or the keypad. So, if your voicemail password is, say, "1234" (mine is not, nice try), you'll send "122344". Now, you may think this sounds like user error, but it happens about half the time for me. And, here's the rub, the PALM ITSELF says that you typed "1234". I mean, there's a record of what you typed right there on the screen, and it's clearly been typed correctly. Except, no, it's sending doubled digits. SO I CAN'T GET INTO MY VOICEMAIL.
I only found this out because I called my pharmacy's refill service, and when I typed in my refill number the computer repeated it back to me, only with half the digits doubled. I was like Ellen Feiss, all "duhhhh?", and I typed it again, and they repeated it back doubled again, and I typed it again, and the computer is all, "Please hold while we transfer you to a real person, IDIOT..."
Oh, and when you press the "#" key on the keyboard it sends the "#" keytone FOREVER, although "#" works on the soft-screen. I'm not saying "FOREVER" as in, "amazing long," I mean, IT ACTUALLY WILL NEVER STOP. IT JUST KEEPS SENDING #.
Is this a feature? Because I don't find it useful. I think this is pretty stunning, because, you know, it's not that uncommon for a computer to be all, "Give me such-and-such a number, followed by the # key," and yet NOBODY at Palm has EVER hit that key on their keyboard, and noticed IT GOES ON FOREVER? It's really obvious, on account of the not-stopping.
Let's talk about the philosophy of complaining a bit. I didn't sit here for an hour typing this in because I hate Palm and want them to die. I honestly don't have that kind of free time. I'm complaining because I want them to do better. I want them to create a device I can love again, the way I loved my Palm V. It was, for its time, a truly beautiful piece of work, inside and out.
Now, the Treo does a lot more than the V, but at every step there's a little gotcha. A little rough edge that nicks you. To me, it's too much like using Windows; sure, the features are there, SORT OF, if you fight enough for them. But after a while, you get worn down, and you stop trying.
For $600 (unlocked), this should be an amazing phone. It should knock my socks off. I can buy a Motorola flip-phone for like $120 that is half the size and has all the features I can use on the Treo right now, and it'll work without all the gotchas and magic dances. (I know; I've owned a couple before, as well as two models of the execrable Sony-Ericsson line (Motto: We put the "slow" in "Damn this crappy phone is slow!").)
I like my keyboard. I like my big, bright screen. I like having a general-use computer with other software. But somebody at Palm needs to start thinking like Steve Jobs. Someone needs to make it her job to say, "This detail sucks, and if the details suck the whole thing sucks, and if our product sucks we suck, so we're going to stay here and we're going to fix this and we're not going to ship until the phone doesn't suck."
Good luck, that person.
I write the software for
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- self = [stupid init];
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Pimp My Code
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- Part 1: Code Insults, Mark I
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