The state of Palm- turn out the lights

Palm_logoRyan Block has left the building.  Ryan is was the Editor-in-Chief at engadget and is leaving to start a new venture with Peter Rojas.  I won’t wish them luck as they don’t need it, anything those two do together will be a raging success.  The timing for Ryan’s last day couldn’t have been better as it was the anniversary of engadget’s famous letter to Palm detailing how they could turn their doldrums around.  Ryan penned a one-year recap of those suggestions and does it look good?  Let’s just say that Palm gets a negative score and move on.  The real question though- does Palm have enough left to move on?  I don’t think so.

I have a soft spot in my heart for Palm, I’ll admit that.  I still think their revolutionary Palm xv was one of the most ground-breaking gadgets ever produced.  It raised the bar for thin and light yet powerful PDAs and can even stand its ground today I’ll bet.  I used the heck out of the one I owned and still remember it with fondness.  Unfortunately Palm really didn’t do much after that until the introduction of the original Treo.  It was buggy for sure but it brought the smartphone into the mainstream and rejuvenated a stagnant market segment.  I never got one of those Treos because it was running the Palm OS which was aging and flagging even back then.  Palm seemed to have become unable to renew that old OS and it was highly evident to me with the original Treo.

Palm’s OS woes were so extensive that they finally introduced the first Treo with Windows Mobile, something that no doubt shook them to their core.  I’m pretty sure they would have done anything else had they been able to avoid embracing the enemy but they just couldn’t.  That WM Treo sold in big numbers and Palm seemed content to sit back in a satisfied glow and say "I told you so".  The problem with this was Palm had at that moment ceased to exist as a gadget company in my book.  They didn’t make the gadgets, those are farmed out to other companies.  With this Treo they no longer made the OS either.  So what had they become, a gadget design firm?  That’s what it seemed like to me.

They tried to jump-start back into a real gadget shop with the Foleo, but that was too little too late.  Or maybe it was too much.  A $600 companion device was doomed from the beginning and even Palm killed it before actually producing them.  That left them with no where to go and no way to get there.  That was a very sad moment for me.

Now they are back with the Palm Treo Pro so where does that leave Palm as a company?  I have no idea and that can’t be good.  There is nothing compelling about this new Treo, it still runs Windows Mobile as the operating system.  Even Palm couldn’t bring themself to go with the many years old Palm OS.  That’s a good business decision but it brings home the fact that Palm has nothing much left in the tank.  The new Treo looks like the Centro, no doubt intentionallly as Palm will tell you that the Centro is their most successful gadget ever with millions sold.  They seem to overlook the fact that the maximum selling price for the Centro is $99 and that probably had more to do with the sales numbers than the gadget itself.  While the Centro looks good for a $99 phone the same look and feel for a $500-plus Treo doesn’t work.  It looks like a toy.

I hope Palm makes it through this dark period which is now many years long.  It’s that nostalgia thing again.  I just don’t see it happening because I see nothing coming down the pike to change things.  There is just no innovation, no previews of anything cool coming up, nothing.  It just may be time for Palm to leave the building.

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