Friday, July 1, 2005

Let’s play taps for Tapwave


By David Gewirtz

So, is Tapwave dead, or not?

For those of you who don't follow the obscure Palm OS licensee business, this might not make sense, so let's go do a recap before we do our requiem.

Tapwave is (or was) the company that created the Zodiac handheld, an interesting if flawed Palm OS handheld aimed at gamers. We reviewed the Zodiac back in August of 2004 and originally gave it four stars. However, we did a Six Months Later review in January of this year and we then dropped our rating down to three stars due to the widely prevalent problems with the product's reliability and support.

At first glance, the Zodiac was a sweet device. It had a wide, beautiful 320x480 screen, two SD-card slots, 128M of RAM and an actual ATI video chip. It also had a thumb-pad and an analog stick for gaming.

Even from the beginning, Tapwave was plagued with problems. Unfortunately, most of them seemed to be strategic. When we first began looking at the Zodiac, we asked a number of tough questions of Tapwave's founders:

  • Palm "clone" products like those from HandEra and even Sony haven't faired all that well over the years. What makes you think Tapwave doesn't share that same dire fate?
  • Isn't nearly $500 for a gaming machine too high for the mass market?
  • Assuming your previous answer includes the phrase "it wasn't intended for the mass market," then how can game developers justify the time and effort to specially develop games for your platform? In fact, even if the Zodiac products were intended for the mass market, given the small penetration of such boutique products, how can game developers justify the investment?
  • Instead of two SD slots, and given the price, wouldn't it have made sense to stick in a little hard drive like in the iPod or iPod mini? Or, alternatively, included a CF slot like the Axim, so users could add their own drives?
  • Why should someone buy a Zodiac instead of a Zire 72? Is the joystick really worth an extra few hundred dollars?
  • We understand from our readers that your technical support, in a word, sucks. Care to comment?
  • While you're commenting, how do you respond to the charge that your company, like many others, is off-shoring jobs Americans need here at home while, at the same time, reducing the quality of service and the degree of owner satisfaction?
  • Given the short lives of other Palm cloners, how can you assure prospective buyers that they won't be left with a very expensive, unsupported paperweight in three years?

Although we pursued these questions for quite some time, hoping to be able to give our readers some reassurances, the only answer we got back came from Byron Connell, Founder and Senior Marketing VP of Tapwave: