Palm is working on a refresh of its Pre and Pixi software to compete more effectively in the mobile space. An update to its WebOS, which is scheduled to be released Feb. 26, would deliver several features that folks have been waiting for, including video capturing and editing. But all this talk about Palm makes me wonder what the company can do to stage a comeback in a market where it has been largely ineffectual.
The mobile business is dominated by Apple, Nokia and, to a lesser extent, Google. When Palm first announced the Pre, the company hoped that it could live up to its hype. Some even called the device an “iPhone killer.” Months later, the Pre is an also-ran in the marketplace. The device fell flat for several reasons, including its original exclusivity to Sprint, battery issues and other software quirks that made some folks turn against Palm’s product. The Pixi has suffered a similar outcome.
But it’s not quite over for Palm. The company still has the ability to turn things around if it can find a way to revolutionize its products and re-establish itself as a major player in the market. It won’t be easy. But there are some strategies it can follow.
1. Revamp the Pre
The Palm Pre is in desperate need of attention. The device pales in comparison to the iPhone. It’s not only oddly designed, but it lacks the “wow” value that the iPhone has. In a space where Palm is attempting to compete with Apple, that’s a major problem. To turn things around, Palm needs to go back to the drawing board with the Pre and deliver a revision that reflects the current design requirements consumers have.
2. Work on WebOS
WebOS has quickly turned out to be more trouble than it’s worth for Palm. The operating system seemed like a fine idea to differentiate the product in the beginning, but it didn’t resonate with consumers. Palm needs to take a step back and evaluate what’s really needed in WebOS and eliminate all the rest. Multitasking is a must-have, but whether or not the software is really capable of competing against other devices on the market is very much up for debate.
3. Remember Apple’s App Store
Developing applications for Palm’s OS makes little sense. Currently, Apple has more than 140,000 applications available in its store. Palm has a fraction of that number of apps available for its platform and it has WebOS to blame. Developers want to be able to easily port applications from one platform to another. They can do that between the iPhone and Android. They can’t do that with Palm’s operating system. Until Palm addresses that major problem, it can’t expect to gain ground in the mobile market.
4. Stick with multiple carriers
Whatever gave Palm the idea to lock the Pre to Sprint’s network at its launch is anyone’s guess. It was a major blunder. Going forward, Palm needs to continue to offer its devices on multiple carriers. Having the Pre and Pixi on Verizon’s network is a good first step, but it can’t lose sight of the value of ubiquity. I understand that Palm wanted consumers to believe that it was following an iPhone-like strategy, thus making it a real iPhone competitor, but it didn’t work. Palm’s Pre needs to be carrier-agnostic.
Palm Must Follow an Independent Path
5. Look toward the enterprise
One place where Palm wouldn’t need to worry so much about Apple is in the enterprise. In that space, it’s still RIM’s BlackBerry that reigns supreme. When the corporate world compares the BlackBerry to a Palm device, they will likely find that the difference is negligible in terms of hardware design. What Palm needs to do is to build more enterprise features into its platform. If Palm can deliver more such options, it might have a chance at gaining some market share in the corporate space.
6. Remember the situation
As Palm looks ahead at what its strategy should be, the company needs to be fully aware of the peril of its situation. Prior to the release of the Pre, some folks wondered how much longer the company really had left. It was losing ground at a rapid rate and it had no phones to compete in the touch-screen market. It does now. But those phones just aren’t cutting it. Palm needs to stay focused on what it can do to turn things around and do whatever it can to achieve its goals. The company is out of options.
7. Stay true to Palm
At the same time, Palm needs to be Palm. Part of the allure of Palm products in the past was that they offered a unique take on mobile computing. They didn’t simply follow the competition’s lead for the sake of making a few extra bucks. Palm was a unique company and it made its name off of that. It can still be unique and deliver a compelling product, but it needs to be more aware of what consumers and the enterprise really want.
8. Consider licensing WebOS
Licensing WebOS would only work if Palm fixed its platform first, but there is an opportunity for the company to license its software to other phone vendors and perhaps some electronics makers. It might be difficult for Palm to license WebOS, since both Microsoft and Google have cornered that market, but if the company feels that it can’t compete with its own hardware and it can drastically improve its WebOS, it needs to give it a shot. It’s a last option for sure, but it might be a good one if things go sour.
9. Better marketing, please
Palm’s advertising strategy has been abysmal. It has failed to capture what the Pre and Pixi are all about, and it hasn’t done anything to drum up excitement for its products. That’s one way Apple bests the entire market. An iPhone ad is simple but effective at informing the public on why it needs an iPhone. If Palm really wants its own products to be successful, it needs to deliver a similar advertising experience. Motorola was able to pull it off with the Droid. Palm needs to do it with the Pre and Pixi.
10. Forget about the iPhone
Palm needs to totally forget that there is an iPhone competing against its Pre. When the company first announced the Pre, it made it all too clear that it was gunning for Apple. In the mobile business so far, that’s a death knell. Palm needs to distance its device from the iPhone and attempt to sell the consumers and organizations that want nothing to do with Apple’s device. The iPhone gets all the attention in the smartphone space, but there really is a profitable market out there for companies that don’t attempt to be an iPhone competitor. Palm should consider it.