The Future of Palm

Posted by: Stephen Wildstrom on September 04, 2007

While I agree with my colleague Cliff Edwards’ post saying the Palm made the right move in canceling the Foleo “companion device,” I’m considerably less sanguine about how much help the new Centro handset may bring to the struggling smartphone maker.

The Centro, which was prematurely announced by Sprint in August, will be smaller and cheaper than any Treo while still sporting a full qwerty keyboard. It should help Palm regain some of the market share it has lost to Windows Mobile devices, BlackBerrys, and the iPhone.

But Palm’s real problem is that the Palm OS Garnet software that the
Centro will run is a fossil, increasingly uncompetitive with more modern offerings from Microsoft, Research In Motion, Apple, and Symbian. Palm’s big problem is that it only recently reacquired the rights to its own software, which had been spun out to an independent company called PalmSource that was then sold to a Japanese software house called Access, and neither PalmSource nor Access had done much with the code they inherited from Palm.

The fact that Foleo was the brainchild of Palm founder Jeff Hawkins meant that it was certain to be an interesting product because Jeff doesn't do dull. But I feared from the time it was unveiled last May that Foleo was going to be a distraction from Palm's critical job of fixing its software.

Palm is working on a new generation of Treos--whether they were to use that brand or not--built on a new Linux-based operating system. It had hoped to introduce the first products later this year, but has had to push those plans back to 2008.

At this point Palm has to concentrate all of its limited resources on getting the new smartphone software done. Otherwise, it will likely become just another maker of Windows Mobile products, one that would at best be a distant second to Taiwan's HTC in that highly competitive market. The job is big and the time is short.

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Reader Comments

Richard Leong

September 11, 2007 09:45 AM

The future of Palm is highly questionable. As it is today, it already has one foot in the casket. Clearly, Palm is far lagging behind the big boys and it seems like they are running out of creative juice. If Palm is unable to innovate, they will surely be doomed within 2 years. I doubt anyone will be dumb enough to buy over Palm. Foleo is a desperate and lame attempt to show the world they came out with some new toy. Who is going to buy Foleo anyway, good question! In the first place, Foleo sounds awful, it should be called fodder instead. Jeff Hawkins seems to be living in another galaxy. Will somebody do him a favour, yell into his ears and tell him, his products are way behind time bro! He needs a lesson from Steve Jobs about creative visionary leadership. Think ahead dude! I am one disgrunted user of Palm. Once the iPhone is launched in Asia, I'll be the first to dump my Palm PDA. Good luck Palm! My sympathies to you and Rest In Peace.

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BusinessWeek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, Douglas MacMillan, and Spencer Ante dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. One of the first mainstream media tech blogs, Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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