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Can Jon Rubinstein Save Palm?

Posted by: Peter Burrows on December 10, 2008

So Palm just emailed a media invite to an event at CES, where it will reveal “all that new-ness you’ve been waiting for.” That can only mean Nova, reportedly the long-awaited replacement for Palm’s badly-outdated operating system.

This is, in fact, a momentous, critical, live-or-die, make-or-break announcement for the company, which has been pretty much been left for dead by many investors since a brutal pre-announcment on Dec. 1. But truth be told, a new OS that’s truly reliable and innovative can go a very long way. As Steve Jobs is fond of pointing out, the reason for Apple’s success comes down to software. That’s why the Mac-based iPhone is helping Apple kick the smart phone competition all over the court, as a general purpose platform for running thousands of applications.

Apple’s strength makes this a great opportunity for Palm—to deliver the first brand new state-of-the-art smart phone OS in many years, and new devices to run on it. If it works and offers something exciting and new, you can bet carriers will want to ink deals if it gives them an alternative to the iPhone.

Yes, I know this sounds awfully rosy, given Palm’s dismal record in recent years. But who’s got a better shot at pulling it off? RIMM is busy cranking out products to run on its current OS. Nokia, Samsung, Moto — they all depend on someone else for this really tough software stuff. But Palm has always had Apple’s general systems approach to business; other than its not-so-successful Windows Mobile phones, it’s built its own hardware and software into products that people [used to] love.

Also, this isn’t the same old Palm. I’m not saying the new one is going to be a world-beater. But this OS release and the family of devices that will run on it will be the first Palm products developed under Jon Rubinstein, the former head of hardware engineering at Apple. He joined Palm a year ago. Since then, Palm has recruited 150 new techies, including some big names in computerdom such as former SGI software guru Way Ting and Apple engineering manager Mike Bell.

The result is that the mood inside Palm is very different than the mood about the company generally. I’ve had access to Palm executives of late, and will be writing more about the company’s plans and prospects. So stay tuned.

Reader Comments


December 10, 2008 9:59 PM



December 11, 2008 5:39 AM

I don't any users are going to jump on Palm with a new OS. Sorry, that is the sad truth. It has been years since they let the old OS die and in the meantime literally thousands of applications have been developed for the WM OS. Enterprise likes RIM, technophiles get the most out of their devices and love WM's versatility and adaptability.
Carriers seeking walled garden profit may like the OS if it transfers utility and profit to carriers (example gps navigation only through carrier) but key potential buyers would be alienated ie a new Palm as an "Instinct."

We had bought some 800Ws for our group but ended up exchanging them out because the GPS did not work as advertised. Palm didn't even know about the problem at first (broke it after beta!) and strung us along on a fix. Palm needs to work on its quality control and vaporware reputation or people will never have the confidence in them again.


December 11, 2008 4:29 PM


Kris Tuttle

December 12, 2008 8:51 AM

It's not going to be easy. There is Google out with Android and a sea of developers have started working on iPhone applications and services.

The new OS and devices that showcase is indeed a watershed for PALM. We are eager to see what they have done in the balance between open and closed, computer versus phone and so on.

No matter what it will take time if it is going to work. So people should be careful about letting emotions get the best of them. The company has largely been written off at this point so any solid movement back into the fray would be very good for PALM.

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. 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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