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Handspring's reputation sticks like mud

Elbonia officially recognised as smartphone state

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The Register has acquired something of a reputation for rebranding some of the IT industry's most overhyped entities, with 'Itanic', 'Chipzilla', and the 'SirCam Merger' all passing into popular usage.

But even we were surprised to see that our appreciative term for Handspring's attempt to marry a PDA and a phone has caught the popular imagination so quickly.

The following clipping appeared in a popular European phone publication this week:-

soil and water

The Handspring … what?

Actually, the term Elbonia is as affectionate as it is disparaging. While Palm's hardware division snoozed, Handspring set out to make a communicator that worked as a phone and yet displayed PalmOS to the rest of the world. And it succeeded, even though competing efforts from Nokia and Motorola fell by the wayside.

Elbonia is Scott Adams' mythical Eastern Europe - where Dilbert discovers that the closely guarded recipe for mud is actually - shhh… - soil and water. Handspring didn't have a snappy CPU to work with, or a modern multi-tasking operating system - so the fact the fact that the Treo works, and works well, is pretty remarkable.

However Handspring is particularly particular about who gets to the see the Treo. Review products first go to Handspring's own shareholders in the media - such as Stewart Alsop, who raved that Handspring would displace Nokia as the world's leading cellphone company in an unintentionally hilarious review of the Treo published by Fortune last year. Alsop declared that the Treo was as significant as the invention of the automobile and the aeroplane, but then sheepishly added:

"Disclosures: I own shares of Handspring. Also, my firm is an investor in Visto, the company supplying Handspring with software that allows the Treo to compete with the RIM BlackBerry."

Err, Houston - we have a credibility problem.

We've been waiting for our promised review unit of the Treo for several months. In fact we're still on the waiting list for the model that was introduced last fall, and is now obsolete.

And we're not alone: Handspring simply doesn't send review units to Europeans, we gather. And the only reason for that is that folks like us get to see all the whizzy European and Japanese devices too, and Handspring doesn't want to risk us making unfavorable comparisons.

To be honest, we don't know who's going to win the smartphone wars.

It's up for grabs.

But we do get suspicious when one of the leading contenders decides to circle the waggons, and employ such control freakery, rather than trust your judgement. ®

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