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.



I completely agree with article. The open letter last year hit the nail right on the head. This article echoes the exact way I feel on the subject.

It’s pretty obvious that Palm has missed the boat and will cease to exist, or become irrelevant, at some point not very far in the future.

I’ve been a Palm user since 1997. The Palm Vx was the perfect PDA. Then I got a Treo 180, followed by the Treo 600. I now own a Treo 680.

In my opinion, the devices I owned were the only ones that represented a real quantum leap for Palm/Handspring. Devices like the 650, 700p, etc were just a rehash of the same theme.

Had Palm just given me a Palm OS with WiFi, a better browser and bug fixes, I would be with them forever and completely happy. I suspect many others would as well. A thinner device, and we would have the smartphone to rule them all.

It shouldn’t be that hard.

Best regards.



Oops. Too many Hawkins to keep straight.

Name screw ups aside, I stand by the content of my post.

Thanks for the correction, Scoopster.

Kun Xi

I love Palm, but I would never upgrade my current Treo 650 until the battery dies. There are very little progress in Palm OS that could inspire the users/devs since OS5 release, which was … (how many years ago?)

There is so far, no unicode, no TrueFont, and even RTL support is from the 3rd party! Forget the hardware acceleration for 3D rendering or video playback. The Palm OS looks really like a ad-hoc project. It takes forever to release the vaporeware, Palm OS 6, and imho, there is very little room for Palm to resolve this mistake right now.


Nate — You’ve mixed up your Hawkins!

Trip Hawkins founded Electronic Arts, 3DO and Digital Chocolate.

Jeff Hawkins (along with Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan) founded the original Palm Computing Inc (i.e. pre US Robotics’ acquisition of Palm). then later the 3 of them founded Handspring. After Palm Inc acquired Handspring, Jeff Hawkins went “back” to Palm for a while.

More details on Wikipedia. I just wanted to clear up what was probably a very honest mistake (and easy to make, given both Hawkins’ fame in the Valley).

Dr. No

The Treo Pro looks decent (maybe because HTC helped to design it and not entirely a Palm product), though I’m very disappointed with the cheap Centro keyboard. The problem with Palm is that it is releasing something other manufacturers have been doing for a long time already. There’s no wow factor or features that would drive potential users to buy the Treo Pro (where’s the line up for Treo Pro?). It’s a JASP (just another smart phone).

Enterprise space is BB territory. The issue for WinMo makers is that there is no exclusivity – you are competing with all the other WinMo competitors out there as well.

Ole Eichhorn

I have a Centro and I love it. I wouldn’t trade it straight up for an iPhone, it has a real keyboard. Palm still makes products that are simple to use and they work. That should be enough, you don’t always have to be inventing the next wheel.



You’re right, Handspring was founded by Trip Hawkins who also founded Palm.

Trip left for a reason, though. Palm was becoming a beast. The innovation died. Handspring created devices that Palm was incapable of creating.


I’ve been reading the death knell of Palm, not occasionally, but quite steadily since Handspring appeared. James used to not even cover Palm here.

This might be the end, I don’t know.

I’ve been reading about how awful Palm OS (that got spun off and reabsorbed) when it integrated with Office software better than Windows CE (or whatever it was or is called) and performed with half as many clicks, and had more options.

David may be right or maybe they snatched his body and replaced him with a pod person. I don’t know what he’s talking about with “Enterprise” (the Star Ship?).

I don’t believe I have “brand loyalty.” I was ready to jump ship, in fact eager to a number of times. I’m constantly sizing up the next purchase even when I don’t have the money or need. I’m ready to jump now, and when I look, Palm is still very much in the running.

Also, be careful what you call a toy. I notice kids sitting playing with some devices that leave smart phones and PDAs and UMPCs and MIDs in the dust, and look like they were built by NASA. Those kids look at our devices and snicker.

All the people who have been predicting the End of Palm for eight or nine years will come out and remind us of their predictions.

maceyr (of

I also do not like the Centro probably because they cut a lot of corners to make it “work”. I disliked not easily being able to open up the battery door/cover, the microSD card slot door/cover, the cheap QWERTY keys and slippery casing. The only thing I liked about the Centro was that it has the voice command program, which was the main spotlight for me.

As for Palm, I only wished that the Palm Pro had the 800w keyboard instead of the cheap Centro keyboard. That, I thought was the dumbest thing they’ve done to wreck it. They totally made it cheap by using that keyboard.

I agree that it seems like Palm can’t do much to stay afloat and had it not for the strong fanbase, they would have died a long time ago. Who would have thought that WM would be their saving grace? I do, however try to remain optimistic. They are finally listening and making changes to their products in hopes of retaining whatever customers they have left who have not jumped ship to iPhone, BB, and others.

2009 will be an interesting year and whether Nova becomes reality will likely be the last straw.


I just don’t think that they will make it to market with a new OS. If that were the case where has it been hiding for all these years they have been talking “A new OS is coming”? I don’t care if it’s Consumer or both. I personally think that Palm got tight with MS because they know the OS won’t make it out.

I don’t care who made the Pro, it looks like a Centro. That was and still is my reaction to the device. Take a Centro and a Pro put them side by side, get someone who doesn’t know a thing about them and ask are these the same phones. I bet the answer would be YES.

Sorry if I ruffled feathers. I have 5 PDAs myself, 2 Blackberries and 650 students that I support and see the whole run of devices. I’ve read the articles, listened to the rumors, worked on the devices, watched what the companies have done and took it all sorted through it all and to me all signs point to the death of the Palm OS.

James I agree with you the Centro does look like a toy and it feels like 1 too. A co-worker has one and well yeah……toy

Just how I see it.

James Kendrick

It’s important to realize that all opinions stated here are just that- opinions. There are no right nor wrong opinions, they are the POVs of those who speak them. My opinion is as stated in the article, Palm is showing nothing to me to change that. I’m sure they have all sorts of plans for the future but that doesn’t change my opinion, which has been formed by their actions for years.

David Ciccone

Vandy point taken but let me ask you this.

If Palm comes out with their new OS (Which they will) where do you think it will compete?


Palm has clearly stated all enterprise devices coming from Palm will be Windows Mobile case closed.

That being said Microsoft owns the keys to Exchange Active Sync and has a very strong bond with Palm. Look at the poor implementation of MSASYNC on the iPhone.. It is missing 60% of the full flavored client that Windows Mobile offers. We forget that Palm has been a leader in the enterprise market for a while EVEN with the PALM OS! Believe that or not. Either way I have no doubt the Palm Treo Pro is just the first of many designs we will see from them

(btw… HTC made the design of the Pro…)


I agree Palm is done! They are even having problems creating new designs. Palm Pro looks l=too much like the Centro. The Palm OS is long gone!! IF Palm ever releases a new OS that is a real upgrade to the current OS I might wet myself! How many years now have they talked NEW OS and it NEVER surfaces?!?! DONE DONE DONE. Foleo was junk. I loved Palm. I have had several but when WinMO became more stable, it just sold me. I am now a RIM user. I have 2 Blackberries and can’t see not carrying them EVERYWHERE I go.

David, dedication can only get you so far. IF a dedicated staff can’t get something to market it’s worthless. 2-3 years is too late. If they are going to make it they need to move or just sit down and die. They should focus on new, innovative devices and work on making that their focus. Give up the OS!


Dave, one more question, are you convinced with Palm’s explanation on why there was no US carrier attached to the Treo Pro? Or will there be any onboard? Compared with RIM, almost all of their devices (so far) have US carriers on board.

David Ciccone

Jay I understand what you are saying as Centro probably is a lot of that number but the Treo 700,750 have been very successful in the enterprise market.. According to Gartner

artner said as of the first quarter, Palm still lagged behind the competition with just 2.9 percent of global smart phone market share. Palm follows No. 1 Nokia, which holds 45.2 percent of the market; BlackBerry-maker RIM, which placed second with 13.4 percent; and Apple, which was vaulted to third place by the iPhone, giving it 5.3 percent market share. But with all device makers creating new phones and jockeying for position, this quarter’s numbers are sure to shake the industry.

So if you look at that the only player in the enterprise is RIM.. So for Windows Mobile Palm is very important.


Dave, out of the 13.4%, how many are those are windows mobile devices and how many are centro devices? As far as I know, the increase of their market share was because of the $99 centro. We still don’t know if the 800w or Treo Pro would help them increase market share in the future.

David Ciccone

Zorg I beg to differ as Palm has a huge amount of evidence and footprint already in the enterprise market. Take a look at this years jump in the smartphone market alone

IDC just released a report detailing the latest smartphone market share numbers for Q1 2008. The new numbers show a jump for Palm to 13.4 percent from 7.9 percent in the previous quarter (Q407).

That looks pretty compelling to me..


Soon HTC may buy Palm, pick it clean of the value (the logo, some patents, one tenth of the staff) and discard the rest.

As for what “vendor in the Windows Mobile arena currently is doing this,” well, it doesn’t really matter. MS controls this arena and Windows Mobile is troubled enough that it will have to undergo sea changes in 2–3 years. No one but Microsoft knows who’ll have the advantage after sea changes, if even MS knows.

There’s zero evidence that Palm has any sustainable advantage in that arena. What David has discovered is a direction, not a distance covered.


What they’re doing isn’t all that strange. Look at the Sony Ericsson Experia X1. It’s also built by HTC and runs Windows Mobile. In fact, HTC have only been using their brand for a relatively short time to sell phones/Pocket PCs. Prior to that they were just an ODM making phones and PPCs for HP, Dell, etc.

David Ciccone

I totally disagree with this article James. Last week I had a great opportunity to speak with some Palm representatives who were the product managers for the Treo Pro (the newly announced Treo).. During my conversation with Palm it made me realize they are starting to define their future. My conversation brought out many facts as to what they are doing.

# Creation of Palm ES (Enteriprise Servivces)
# Palm expert Remote Resolution
# Creating a dedicated Robust platform for LOB apps
# Dedicated enterprise team
# Dedicated CSO organization
# Direct engagement with corporate enterprise customers

So when you ask me where Palm is going and where will they be 2-3 years from now? Its’ plain and simple!!! The Enterprise!!!! I really like this business model for one reason.. Do one thing really good and become the expert and you will succeed..You tell me what vendor in the Windows Mobile arena currently is doing this? I truly believe Palm is doing what needs to be done for the company and the customer. The latest release with the Palm Treo Pro has proven this to me.

I responded to this article on my site and thought I would share my comments. My recommendation James is to speak with Palm and understand what they are doing before making such a significant statement..


re Nate’s comment – that’s true, but I think Handspring was born from some of the original palm team leaving palm wasn’t it? I to agree with you though – the first gadget I craved was a treo180 (with thumbkeyboard of course)


I too, will miss palm – I think the downward spiral became obvious to me when Sony stopped becoming a licensee of the palm OS, but it may have well been earlier, or when they kept delaying the release if the new OS…was it Garnet? Anyhoo, I experienced even the most loyal of loyal Palm podcasters (Palmaddict, 1src, etc) fade away or move on to another gadget/company to get excited about, and when that happens, I don’t there is any coming from that. Now palm exists as a mere shadow of itself, as another windows mobile licensee…sigh.


I know this is being kinda picky, but the Original Treo wasn’t a Palm product. Heck, the first four, or so, Treos weren’t Palm products. They were Handspring devices. The first Treo device that had Palm branding for an entire run was the Treo 650.

I only point this out because it demonstrates just how long it’s been since Palm has developed an innovative product. They didn’t develop the Treo line. They acquired it.

oh, and imo the treo pro dont look like a toy. to me it looks like the most interesting smartphone design in a while.

but then i have a soft spot for thinkpads, so my take on good design is work first, looking good next to a cup of java a distant third…

they should have cut the foleo price down to 300 and rolled out devices based on the updates palm os. why oh why they never used that i cant understand. it seems they where afraid of loosing customers over not being able to use the old palm apps any more.

kinda makes me think of how microsoft bends over backwards to maintain compatibility with old apps…

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