Friday 16 August 2019

Samsung SGH-i530 (2004)

Samsung i530
Introduced August 2004

The Samsung i530 is one of those handsets that appears to have popped in from a parallel reality. A clamshell smartphone with a touchscreen, the i530 was one of a small number of mobile phones to run the Palm OS operating system.

Flaws – well, it had those. The i530 lacked any sort of high-speed data and the fact that it came with two batteries probably told you what you needed to know about battery life. As with all other Samsungs of the time, the i530 lacked Bluetooth. And at 190 grams it was a bit hefty for its day too. But perhaps the biggest flaw was that you couldn’t actually buy one… but we’ll come to that shortly.

Samsung had some form with Palm OS smartphones – the SPH-i500 launched in 2003 on the Sprint network in the US showed promise. The i530 added a much better screen and a camera and supported GSM networks rather than CDMA.

Palm OS had been around for a while – first debuting in Palm’s own Pilot 1000 and 5000 in 1996. By the term of the millennium the phrase “Palm Pilot” was pretty much synonymous with handheld computing. Palm themselves had missed the emergence of smartphones altogether, but there was certainly demand for a wireless-enabled Palm OS device, and that was the niche Samsung were aiming for.

So really all the ingredients were here for the i530 to be something of a hit, especially for Palm OS fans who wanted something practical as a mobile phone. But the i530 never got that far. And here the story takes a weird turn.

Samsung is a long-standing sponsor of the Olympics, and they took thousands of i530s to the 2004 Athens games and handed them out to officials, VIPs and athletes. And that was the first and last time anyone ever saw the Samsung i530.

Samsung didn’t stay in the Palm OS market for long. The CDMA SPH-i550 planned for released on the Sprint network was dropped, the SCH-i539 turned up only in China. Palm themselves got into the smartphone market by buying a small rival called Handspring, but Palm OS was fading away by this point and eventually it fizzled out.

If things had worked out differently, we could all be tapping away on Palm OS devices today. But we are not, and Samsung’s involvement with the platform has largely been forgotten. Despite several thousand Samsung i530s being built, they seem to have vanished completely and if you want to add this oddity to your collection then you are probably out of luck.

Image credit: Samsung

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