I’ve been thinking a lot about something Palm CEO Ed Colligan has said a few times now. He said that the new devices based on Nova, the codename for Palm’s new OS, will feature "game changing hardware."
This is an interesting phrase. New devices that radically change the direction of their market don’t come along all that often. In the PDA/smartphone field, it’s only happened three times in the last 15 years: the original Palm Pilot, the Treo 600 and the iPhone. And of those, Ed Colligan was instrumental in the first two. You could even argue that the Foleo, something he described as revolutionary, was the precursor to the current netbook craze. So he knows "game changing hardware" when he sees it. If he thinks the new Nova devices are going to rock the industry, I’m inclined to believe him.
So what could it be? It won’t be anything like the Treo or Centro, bar-shaped devices with relatively small screens and front-facing keyboards. So what else?
A lot of people have speculated that the new Nova devices will be slate, all-screen devices like the iPhone. This isn’t an unreasonable guess, given that we know that Nova will be targeted at the "prosumer" segment of the market, flashy high performance devices purchased by individuals, differentiated from the corporate fleet Treos and entry level consumer Centros.
But the iPhone is already out there. How can Yet Another Black Slab be game changing?
By changing the size, not the shape.
Big is the new small
What if the new Nova devices are like the ubiquitous PADDs in Star Trek, handheld terminals that took the place of paper? I think the new Palm Nova line will be a crossbreed of the iPhone and Amazon’s Kindle, a cellular-enabled Linux tablet about the size of a Steno pad.
There’s some circumstantial evidence to back this up. We know, for example, that one of the reasons the Foleo was shelved was that it was running a different variant of Linux than Nova, and they didn’t want to split their effort. If Nova scales well to a 6 to 7 inch screen slate, it would work similarly well on a 10 inch clamshell like the Foleo. It also leans up against the new Intel mobile slate that should be announced tomorrow.
Is there a market for a 7 inch slate, with or without a Kindle-style thumbboard? Could this be the game changer Palm has in mind, something to fit between smartphones and netbooks? We’ll find out early next year.