Friday, January 9, 2009

Palm Rides Again... We Hope

At this year's CES (Consumer Electronic Show) Palm unveiled their new operating system, known as WebOS. The first WebOS phone was also part of the demonstration, a sweet touchscreen smartphone which is supposed to be available from Sprint in the first half of 2009. The phone is known as the Pre. I really hope Palm is able to resume their place as a hand-held powerhouse with this new OS and its subsequent devices.

I've been a fan of Palm handhelds since their first devices were released, the Palm Pilot 1000 and Pilot 5000. At the time Palm was a subsidiary of U. S. Robotics. The Pilot 1000 and 5000 were not the first devices to be created by the Palm founders (Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky, and Ed Colligan), but it was the first device to have the Palm name. I was lucky enough to own a Pilot 5000. It had a respectable 512kb of internal memory (compared to 128kb in the 1000) and all of the functionality you would expect of a personal digital assistant (PDA) - address book, calender, etc. I was not particularly interested in that part though. I used my Pilot for games! A development community grew over the net, and it was possible to find quite a few games and apps for my Pilot.

By today's standards the Pilot was a primitive device. At the time though it was the forerunner in handhelds. Palm kept up the good work for many years, releasing a number of OS upgrades and new devices. I upgraded to a Palm III, and then later to the first color Palm, the IIIc. With the release of the Palm III, Palm dropped the Pilot moniker completely. The Pilot pen company did not appreciate Palm's naming scheme :)

On the company side, 3Com acquired U.S. Robotics in 1997. The Palm founders (Hawkins, Dubinsky, and Colligan) were not happy with 3Com's direction for Palm, and they left and formed their own company, Handspring. Palm and Handspring devices developed in competition with one another. Each had their own features, but were at heart very similar to one another.

Palm had its IPO in 2000. Palm's stock soared in those first few months. reaching a high of $95.06. The dot com bubble bursting hit Palm hard though, and a little over a year later, Palm was trading at $6.50. For some reason which still is not clear to me, Palm chose to divide their company in an effort to improve the situation. They spun off a new company, PalmSource, which managed the OS side, and their hardware division merged with Handspring and was known as PalmOne. In 2005 the two Palms undid the split, and once again became a single company.

It seems like ever since Palm went through all of the structural changes, the company has not been the same. They have had success with the Treo smartphones, but not so much to return them to their dominate status. Palm's issues came to a culminating point when they announced the Foleo device in May of 2007. Palm's triumphant comeback got laughed at by the media. It seemed that no one had any use for Palm's new mobile solution. (Given the popularity of netbooks now, it's unfortunate the Foleo didn't work out for Palm. Perhaps had they marketed it a little better, it might have worked. But I digress...) The Foleo was canceled just four months later.

The problem for a while is that Palm has been looked upon as a company which makes empty promises. Palm promised a new operating system. They promised hot new devices. The results have been underwhelming.

Early reports of the Pre are promising. Perhaps Palm has finally delivered a device to be exited about. I truly hope that is the case... even though I have no intentions of giving up my G1 anytime soon! :)


Amateur said...

I think this was a great effort for Palm, I've owned a Palm III in '99 before and it was the ultimate touchscreen/stylus combo style. They had great ideas then, but they were not able to innovate quickly to keep up with consumer demand. This phone they're pushing out is going to give them a chance to get real feedback about what else can be done. At the moment, their smartphones are severely lacking in many entertainment areas. Palm did hire some engineers who worked on some of the better gadgets out today, so when you see similar design and interface, it's pretty obvious it's the same folks working on it.

I'm pretty eager to try this out when it comes to a Sprint store even though I would never port to that carrier.

Anonymous said...

My wife had a treo 700p that was the last treo with a palm os. At some point Palm gave up on their os and started letting MS put their crappy os into the new treos. This irked me because they really controlled the quality of the product until that point. And it seemed to be a move that said.
"Well our customers can just go to hell because now we have some money."

I think in the end they will be remembered like Blackberry or Motorola companies that had innovation and promise but gave up and just started producing similar products and changing minuscule components.