palmdevicePalm is a company that I at once love and lament. Their long history is paved with bad business strategies and dumb ideas that led them the brink of oblivion – where they teeter now. Yet I can’t help waxing nostalgic every time I stumble across an image of an old Palm device on a website my mind thinks back to fond memories of the day when PalmOS was the coolest mobile platform on the market that attracted legions of developers writing applications by the thousands – a privilege now only iPhone receives. Alas, those days are long gone. Now it seems Palm has become a virtual pan handler among mobile tech companies as struggles to survive in a market that grows more competitive each month.

Their last remaining hope hinges on the success of one device – the Pre. A device that seems to suffer extraordinarily high return rate. And having seen and used the device first hand I can see why. Palm has long been dogged by build issues in its devices. Early Treo handsets were wracked with issues ranging hardware failure incessant software crashes. My Treo 650 would randomly reboot for no apparent reason, and it was not at all uncommon to hear stories from users who had gone through SEVERAL Treos. Palm could afford that kind of attrition in a time when they help a large share of the market. Today however it is the kiss of death – and the Pre is wearing lipstick.

As mentioned, recent studies indicate the Pre may suffer high return rates, which may or may not be true. But more disturbing are stories of breaking screens, cracking cases, and both halves of the device becoming detached. It’s the first problem in particular I encounter most. The screen on the Pre seems to be alarmingly delicate and breaks from the least amount of tensile pressure exerted along its perimeter. The least amount of flex or bending will crack it. And that can be traced back to one culprit – the Pre’s cheap plastic housing. That is apparent the moment you hold a Pre in your hand – it feels incredibly cheap and toy-like, not what you would expect from a several hundred dollar device. Instead of encasing the hardware a firm metal frame and glass construction like the iPhone, Palm went the cheap route by using an all-plastic design. A choice that could ultimately kill Palm, whose very survival depends on the success of this one product.

With another handheld, Pixi, waiting in the wings, based no doubt on an even cheaper design, I can’t help but wonder if these troublesome quality issues will be the company’s finish. Palm can’t afford to drop the ball again. They simply don’t have the momentum or market share to survive a fatal mishap like a device plagued with high failure rates. Unless Palm somehow gets these issues under control, even at the cost of redesigning the handset mid-life, there won’t be another model after the upcoming Pixi.