Palm Still Mired in the Past

There is innovation going on in the Palm space, but not at Palm.

Last week in San Jose, Palms new operating system subsidiary, PalmSource, rolled out a Palm OS 5 beta. As a platform on which to build a new generation of handheld devices, the beta was underwhelming—a situation Ive come to expect from Palm.

Promised to ship by midyear, Palm OS 5s biggest change architecturally will be to support a CPU based on ARM designs, such as the 206MHz StrongARM manufactured by Intel. Palm has stayed with its Motorola 68000-based DragonBall designs far too long, and the ARM-based chips are so fast that the next-generation Palms will perform operations via software that now require extra-cost hardware add-ons. Many Pocket PC 2000 and all Pocket PC 2002 devices use ARM-based chips, so this is nothing new.

PalmSource makes a big deal of how existing Palm OS applications written for DragonBall CPUs will continue to work on Palm OS 5-based devices, which is fine as far as it goes, but thats not the kind of central feature that inspires strategic corporate commitments.

There are also new 802.11b networking support, encryption and secure communications features, but based on whats been revealed so far, Palm OS 5 is still one more symptom of a company thats living in the past. Palm is stuck in a technology time warp, and its no surprise the companys sales were down 44 percent at the end of November over what they were a year before.

Just look at Palms flagship i705 device, which started shipping a few weeks ago: The i705 features a (gasp) monochrome screen, a 33MHz CPU and a completely anemic 8MB of RAM, plus integration with the slow, on-its-way-out Mobitex packet data network.

There is innovation going on in the Palm space, but not at Palm—Handsprings Treo, which starts shipping this month, is lighter, smaller and 8MB of RAM richer than the i705—plus, it comes with a minikeyboard, is a full-featured phone and already supports the far faster GPRS wireless standard. And, oh, its $50 cheaper. How could the i705 be so outclassed so soon after its launch?

Meanwhile, Pocket PCs cost more, but they provide significantly more power, RAM, expandability and flexibility, while Palm continues to party like its 1999.

Is Palm moving forward fast enough to keep your business? Let me know at [email protected]