Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.
In a recent interview with Elevation Partners' Roger McNamee, the Palm investor explained that Palm knew it had to step up its game after RIM launched the BlackBerry Pearl, which he described as "the first real consumer electronics product in the smartphone category." The Pearl launch served as the coming out party for the BlackBerry brand among consumers as RIM began stepping up its advertising, and the product's narrower hardware design was a noticeable break with the staid stylings of previous BlackBerry devices.
Indeed, back in November of 2006 as Palm rolled out the somewhat consumer-focused Treo 680, I wrote a Switched On column noting that the Pearl broke with the evolutionary path that RIM had been on and served as an example for the kind of hardware shift Palm needed to make.
Palm finally answered the Pearl with the Centro, a compact, inexpensive, and successful smartphone that has apparently served as the final resting place of the original Palm OS architecture. However, between the release of those two devices, the entry and subsequent SDK of Apple's iPhone proved a far more significant turning point in the evolution of consumer smartphones. The iPhone's resonance and popularity have provoked responses from many competitors, but there is a particular contrast in the flagship CDMA touchscreen handsets released by RIM and Palm --- the other two smartphone developers that grow their own operating systems -- since then.