Targeting the PDA

By Carmen Nobel  |  Posted 2002-08-05

Targeting the PDA

In December 2001, Palm Inc. published a paper detailing its "Zen of Palm" philosophy, suggesting that the perfect handheld operating system could be achieved through simple enlightenment, complicated riddles and the basic idea that a PDA is not a PC.

"How can a gorilla learn to fly?" Palm officials asked. "The gorilla must become an eagle. A handheld is not just a little desktop or laptop PC. A handheld is something else."

A year and a half later, Palms operating system subsidiary, PalmSource Inc., is trying to hold on to its Zen philosophy as it tackles another riddle: How can a handheld operating system company succeed in the burgeoning smart-phone market without having to create a new operating system?

The company is having some luck in the business of smart phones, if a smart phone is loosely defined as a high-end handset that runs on an interactive operating system.

Kyocera Wireless Corp., of San Diego, plans to ship next quarter its third generation of its Palm OS-based phone. The 7135, at 6.6 ounces and in a clamshell form factor, actually looks like a phone, in addition to supporting third-generation CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) 1X networks.

Samsung Telecommunications America in Richardson, Texas, later this year plans to release updates to its SPH 1300 phone, which also runs the Palm OS.

Handspring Inc., whose devices support the Palm OS, plans to launch a CDMA version of its Treo phone in conjunction with Sprint PCS 3G network launch late this summer. Customers will be able to market the device directly from Sprint, according to Handspring officials in Mountain View, Calif.

But missing from the list of Palm licensees are giants from the traditional PDA (personal digital assistant) and the traditional phone markets—companies such as Hewlett-Packard Co. on one side, with its support for Microsoft Corp., of Redmond, Wash., and manufacturers such as Nokia Corp. and Motorola Inc. with their support for Symbian Ltd.s operating system on the other side.

Palm officials in Santa Clara, Calif., said that its all the same market and that while devices may look different, the operating system for each device need not be.

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"We have ongoing discussions with almost every significant player in the device space," said Michael Mace, chief competitive officer for PalmSource, also in Santa Clara, whose explanation of the market sounds a bit like its own Zen riddle. According to Mace, on one hand, he believes the desire for PDAs and cell phones are separate, but on the other hand, he believes in converged devices. And Palm is not yet sure where to go with that.

"People either want mobile data, or they dont want mobile data," Mace said. "If they want that, theyre already looking at getting a handheld today. If they dont want that, they want a cheaper, lighter, stronger mobile phone. But if they do, what they choose is an OS thats good for mobile data, and thats the Palm OS."

Analysts argue otherwise.

"I dont think Palm is a smart-phone operating system at this point," said Ken Dulaney, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "Putting a cell phone in a computing platform is a big, big deal. So far, [Palm smart-phone implementations] have been side-by-side—the Palm OS running on one chip and a traditional phone platform running on another. Each manufacturer builds its own interface for the phone. With a Symbian or Microsoft smart phone, its different. Symbian can be the complete offering, or it can sit side-by-side, but the core applications for the phone are built by the OS provider, not the original equipment manufacturer. You dont find this with Palm."

To wit, Nokia recently began licensing its Series 60 software platform, designed exclusively for smart phones, to other phone manufacturers. Matsushita Communication Industrial Co. Ltd., which makes Panasonic handsets, is developing a handset based on Series 60, as is Siemens AGs IC Mobile Group.

Nokia is pushing MMS (multimedia messaging), an application the Espoo, Finland, company said it believes will be as successful in both smart phones and regular wireless phones as SMS (Short Message Service) is today. The company this week will unveil Version 3.1 of its Mobile Internet Toolkit, which includes support for MMS.

"The new Mobile Internet Toolkit now gives developers the opportunity to create MMS applications and test them in the same integrated environment," said Charles Chopp, a spokesman for Nokia, in Irving, Texas.

The Palm OS supports SMS but does not include support for MMS—although companies such as Electric Pocket Inc. have developed applications for sending mixed-media messages from Palm OS devices.

"As usual, the developers have been busy," PalmSources Mace said.

As for Microsoft, the software company has yet to be a smart-phone threat; so far, only Sendo plc., of Birmingham, England; HTC Corp., of Taipai, Taiwan, and Samsung have committed to building smart phones at some point this year.

But Microsofts latest handheld operating system, Pocket PC Phone Edition, may be a more immediate threat. It gives licensees one more way to give traditional PDAs wireless capabilities and customers such as Christopher Bell another reason to believe switching from Palm to Pocket PC was the right decision.

"I was ready for better Windows integration and a new programming challenge," said Bell, chief technology officer of the People2People Group, in Boston, who switched from Palm to Pocket PC a few months ago.

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