Fonzie On Water SkisOn Monday pa1m0ne released their latest device, the Tungsten T5, and as I looked over the details I had a sudden strange thought. A la Carrie Bradshaw, I couldn’t help but wonder, have handhelds “jumped the shark?”
In case you’re not familiar with the term, “jumping the shark” refers to an episode of Happy Days in which Fonzie performs a water ski jump over a shark tank. That became the definitive episode which marked the beginning of the end for the popular television show. So, to put in another way, I guess what I’m asking is, do you think that handhelds have become passe?
I have to ask this question, because I’m simply too close to be objective. Since 1997, I’ve been a vocal evangelist for Palm OS handhelds having started the Kansas City Palm Users Group and the Nashville Palm Users Group, which is about to celebrate it’s 5th Birthday. I’ve also been active with InterPUG, the Palm OS User Council, not to mention countless online communities. My consulting firm has been involved with training, public speaking and even writing custom software for Palm OS and I’m now getting involved with a radio show on the subject.

With all of this involvement with Palm OS, you’d think that I would be the last one to suggest that handhelds are no longer relevant, but I think that’s what I find so shocking. If I’M thinking it, then perhaps the shark was jumped a long time ago. With my love affair being so strong, perhaps I’m the jilted lover and as such, I’m the last to know? So I need you to “give it to me straight” and tell me the truth.

My hope is that it’s just me. After eight years of involvement with Palm OS, I may be jaded. There’s very little out there that surprises me, having seen all that Palm OS can do (and it can do A LOT), so maybe I’ve become numb to handhelds in some way. When I first became involved with the operating system it was new and exciting, but like any relationship, things mellow and become familiar. Am I simply longing for the “new” for the sake of being new as Mike Rohde suggested, or has Palm OS simply run it’s course?

This has happened once before to me. I used to be a HUGE proponent of the FranklinCovey Day Planner. I used to always carry my planner with me everywhere I went and would preach about it’s many benefits to anyone that would listen. I turned it into the corporate culture at LHBASIF ensuring that every employee had one. I even began leading informal training on how to use them, but my zeitgeist came to an end though once I saw the first Pilot 1000.

After playing with the device in a FranklinCovey store, I quickly assessed that this was the future. A few months later, I was the proud owner of a used Pilot 1000 and I never looked back. It wasn’t that I thought that the FranklinCovey method was bad, far from it, it’s just that the idea of the paper based planner seemed obsolete and that’s what I turned away from. I wasn’t alone in turning away from the Day Planner. At some point, I don’t know when, it seemed that the critical mass had done the same. There appeared to no longer be a ground swell of interest surrounding the product. People either moved on to digital organizers, corporate Outlook, or they went back to simple to do lists. Regardless of what road they chose, the vast majority moved on to something else and I get the feeling that the same thing is happening with handhelds.

Think about it. Either you used to use a day planner, or you know someone who did. Although some still use them, most people no longer do. From my perspective, I’m hearing more and more from people who used to use a handheld and have now moved on to something else as well. “Yeah, I used to use one of those”, someone told me the other day. When I asked why they stopped, they didn’t really have a reason, they simply moved on.

In 1996-1997 a digital organizer was unique and different. Fast forward to 2004 and there’s a plethora of devices that can handle your organizer needs. Just about every mobile phone supports contacts and calendars, not to mention the ever popular iPod. Granted, that’s not to say that these devices provide a easy to use interface, they don’t, but it may be all someone needs to ditch their handheld for something else. With more and more technology devices doing more and more, the landscape is changing and how we relate to our technology is changing with it. Do I want to listen to music on my computer, my iPod, my Palm OS handheld, or my phone? They will all play mp3s in some way shape or form.

So those things that made the handheld unique have now become much more commonplace and along the way have become commodities. Back in the day, the handheld calculator was quite amazing and cost 100’s if not 1000’s of dollars. Today they are given away for free and integrated into watches, pens, and everything electronic. Is the handheld about to reach a similar demise? Seeing how iPods run on a mobile hard drive and with new devices such as the OQO Pocket Computer, putting a computer in your pocket isn’t the big deal that it used to be.

All of this rhetoric isn’t to say that Palm OS is not valid anymore. I typed this entry on an AlphaSmart Wireless Dana, I refer to my Tungsten T3 every day and the Treo 600 is one of the hottest selling smartphones on the market. Clearly Palm OS is still valid and applicable for a wide array of computing situations. That’s the thing about “jumping the shark”, it’s not that it’s over, just that it’s the end is near. And my reasoning for posing this question isn’t because I only want to “hang with the cool kids.” I’ve invested a lot of time in Palm OS and continue to do so. From responding to e-mail and forum posts every day, to holding meetings each and every month on the subject – I’m very invested in handhelds. If handhelds have indeed “jumped the shark”, then I have to consider if I want to stay vested, or is it time to cash out?

What do you think? Am I off my rocker, or do you too think that handhelds are “been there, done that”? Have I simply been living on the bleeding edge too long, or has the party ended and I’m still dancing with a lampshade on my head? Please post your comments and share you thoughts. I’d love to hear what you think.