Palm Shows its Looking Out for No. 1 Again

Brooks: New releases, Handspring acquisition will fill in the gaps in product lines, innovation

Palms recent device releases have been encouraging, suggesting that the firm is focused on retaining the mantle of handheld computing leadership its held since back when its devices first took off.

Equally encouraging was last weeks announcement that Palm will acquire Handspring in a stock-swap deal due for completion this fall.

In the short term, the deal represents a much-needed lifeline for Handspring, which, despite having made a place for itself at the crowded smartphone/communicator table, hasnt yet achieved the sort of sales it needs to hang on to its spot.

The deal is no less important for Palm, which hasnt yet built out the tricky series of wireless carrier relationships required to play in the communicator space, as Handspring has done with its Treo line of devices. Handsprings efforts cant be underestimated—just ask Microsoft how well its fared getting smartphones into carrier channels.

Although Palm markets a device with voice capabilities, the Tungsten W, nearly all of Palms offerings remain fixed in the traditional handheld computer/organizer space. Meanwhile, Handspring focuses solely on the smartphone/communicator market. This deal fills what were major gaps in the product offerings of each company, with a minimum of overlap.

The Palm/Handspring reunion also means a return of Jeff Hawkins, the initial creative force behind the firm, whose departure to form Handspring appeared to have left Palm creatively rudderless until very recently.

While the deal will mean one fewer licensee for Palmsource, the soon-to-be spun-off portion of Palm charged with developing the Palm OS, a stronger hardware arm for Palm means a brighter future for the platform. Indeed, one of the important priorities moving forward for the combined Palm and Handspring should be to push adoption of the 32-bit Palm OS 5—and soon, OS 6—by shipping the platform on every device in their lineup.

Right now, Handsprings Treos run Palm OS 4.x, as do Palms lowest-end Zire devices. The differences between the platforms may not yet be noticeable to end users, but this is partly because developers havent yet fully embraced the new platform.

However, with a slate of product offerings that stretches from the low-end data-centric units to high-end network-capable ones, all running a common platform, Palm has a good shot at re-igniting the sort of handheld computing fire that drove its early success.

What do you see ahead for Palm and the Palm OS platform? Drop me a line at