The problem with cellphones and why PalmOS is still the best mobile platform

The biggest problem I see with cellphones are that they are merely technology “teases” that are either unable to realize their full potential (no developer kit or platform) or “crippled” to allow the cell phone provider sell additional functionality for pure profit with no additional strain on their network or customer service.

In my worst futuristic nightmare, the RIAA and cellular service providers would bring the limitations of cell phones to the world of computers, absolutely destroying their usefulness.

While most non-technical cell phone users will only experience a few frustrations per phone and provider, those accustomed to a high level of freedom will find themselves gnashing their teeth with all but a few phones.

I’m not sure what the problem is here, but there seems to be a real lack of interest from service providers in making any friends of subscribers. People are rabid fans of Apple computers not because of their love of black turtlenecks, but because the technology opens up a new world for them and they feel that Apple gives them something of value, something empowering.

The thing cell phone companies and providers don’t realize (or realize and won’t publicly acknowledge until they can fully monetize it) is that cell phones have a lot of potential, and that people want to tap into it.

A good example of this is the Palm Treo which continues to sell despite having an “outdated” OS. Why? Because it has literally tens of thousands of useful applications to empower you to do everything from manage grocery lists to ssh into Unix servers to play Nintendo games.

Here is a recent story of a very simple desire to use an apparent “feature” of a basic cell phone and where and how often it dead-ended:

My parents recently purchased their very first cell phones. Their package came with new Motorola Razr V3s. Nice looking phones. Well constructed. Tight. One of them came with a music package that included stereo headset/mic, an SD expansion card, and some extra software.

One of the things they wanted to do with it was to use the voice memo feature to record notes to their SD card, and then plug the SD card into their computer for archiving. Simple, right? WRONG.

Upon review the owner’s manual stated the camera and camcorder preferences could be changed to save documents to an SD card, but the voice memo programs could not.

A few hours on the internet provided me with a few answers, none of which were desirable:

  • there are no free applications one can download and install that offer more control of voice recording
  • there were no paid applications one can download and install that offer more control of voice recording
  • the motomodders (who provide no-warranty versions of modified firmware that provide additional functionality) had addressed this voice memo limitation in their forums but had not discovered the hack to fix the problem.

So I thought I’d break out my trusty Palm Treo 700p and see if it wasn’t worlds better in it’s standard configuration. I was surprised to find out that it wasn’t, but that the limitations were surmountable (just like on a computer):

Out of the box, the “voice memo” software was easy to find and use. Sound quality when played on the phone was good. Browsing the SD card turned up no audio files, however. No preferences were available to change the recording destination to the SD expansion card.

Online forums mentioned finding what appeared to be the recordings on the phone’s RAM using FileZ or Explorer but in the end they were 0kb in size instead of the 100s that an actual recording would be.

So what next? There were still built-in options to send the memos to a computer via email from the phone or Bluetooth. (This is less than desirable as this would require manually copying each and every memo instead of having them synchronized with everything else using a standard hotsync)

After copying the file to my computer I discovered that it was in “PureVoice” (.qcp) format which you need to convert to listen to. Qualcomm (the owners of the PureVoice format and the makers of the PureVoice player) dropped Mac support back in the OS 9 days but you can still get if for Windows versions here:
(while you’re on the Qualcomm site you should bitch at them about the lack of an OS X version ๐Ÿ™‚ )

At the time of writing Mac users could convert their PureVoice files online for free atย You have to be careful about the file format you choose to convert to as a standard 900KB Purevoice file can easily turn into a 10MB mp3. I like a nice 16000Hz, mono, 8-bit .wav with no noise reduction as that’s pretty close to the original in quality.

So this is a workable solution but a real pain in the ass as there are so many steps involved plus a potential privacy breach by sending all of your precious audio across the web and back.

Thanks once again to a thriving developers community the next step finally brought us the answer:
For $9 you can get yourself a copy of the rather inappropriately named “Voice Mail Recorder” which does NOT:

  • pick up your calls for you and record voicemail…

…but rather does:

  • record at 16khz which is nice quality for voice (built in voice memo is 8khz)
  • allow you to record to SD card as a usable .wav file
  • have easy one-handed controls using the 5-way controller
  • record to a folder in /Audio/ which does not interfere with pTunes. Also allows you to easily find the folder to add to your sync list if you use Missing Sync for Palm OS

Screenshot of navigating to the Voicemail folder on the Treo SD card using Cardreader

With each year that passes, consumers hold more and more power in the palm of their hands and yet few manufacturers or cell phone providers are stepping up to the plate to allow this power to be unleashed.

Only in the world of cell phones do you run into true dead-ends and find problems that simply do not have solutions.

This breeds frustration and has the opposite effect of building a loyal consumer base. It simply keeps the status quo and gives customers a reason to not just replace their phones every two years, but their providers as well.

Sadly all they find at their new provider is a new set of frustrations.

2 Thoughts to “The problem with cellphones and why PalmOS is still the best mobile platform”

  1. Chris

    Although I never use the voice memo, this probably explains why I keep getting a voice memo sync error between my Treo and Mac.

  2. Likely. Since I use Missing Sync for Palm OS to sync my data I found that I disabled the following right out-of-the-box:
    – Mark/Space Conduit for AvantGo (as the AvantGo service keeps changing which grew tiresome. Also, it’s pretty much been replaced by this thing called “internet access” ๐Ÿ™‚
    – Mark/Space Timecopy (Sprint keeps the time so why should my Mac force the issue?
    – Mark/Space Folder Sync (didn’t have files that weren’t .pdfs, music, contacts, calendar events, etc. that needed to be *synchronized* — using Cardreader I can copy things just as easily

    Until recently I also turned off “Documents to Go” because without “fit text to screen” the .pdf reader was utterly useless. Recently DataVis updated their program and by going through a rat maze on their website you can download a free update that works not only for scaling text up to a readable size, but the sync conduit seems to be working thus far.

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