Like many of you, I was dismayed when I heard the news that Palm, Inc. is at least a year away from getting the first smartphone running its next-generation operating system on the market. As difficult projects like this always take longer than expected, I can’t see what Palm hopes to accomplish by releasing Palm OS II in 2009.
The whole point of this operating system is to give current Palm OS users an upgrade path to a more modern operating system. But I’m doubtful how many Palm OS users there will still be after another year or two.
The operating system Palm is using now first debuted in 2002, and it lacks far too many features to remain competitive until 2009. Devices running don’t let you talk on the phone and wirelessly access the Internet at the same time. Its very weak support for multi-tasking is also a significant limitation.
Palm needs to stop releasing new smartphones that have these flaws now, not at some point in the distant future.
Give Up on Linux
Actually, Palm already makes several smartphones that don’t have the problems I mentioned earlier: the Treo 700w/wx, the Treo 750, and the soon-to-be-released Treo 500.
But they don’t run the Palm OS; they run Windows Mobile. And that’s the direction Palm has to go.
The company should give up on spending a year or so on Palm OS II, and go with something that works now.
Best of Both Worlds
Before you hard-core Palm OS fans go up in flames, hear me out.
The plan with Palm OS II is to take an already existing operating system — Linux — and add a new user interface and the ability to run legacy Palm OS applications. Problem is, modifying Linux to make it ready to run on a smartphone is going to take too long.
So Palm should drop Linux and use Windows Mobile as the basis for all its future models. It can still add its own user interface and the ability to run Palm OS applications. In short, Palm should make Windows Mobile devices that looks and acts like Palm OS ones.
There wouldn’t be any hassles from Microsoft. Devices like the Motorola Q9m (and some I can’t talk about yet) demonstrate that Microsoft is open to letting its licensees "skin" Windows Mobile to look like whatever they want.
And the hardest part of the job, adding support for legacy Palm OS software to Windows Mobile, has already been done. Palm just needs to license — or buy — StyleTap‘s system for doing just that.
What Palm would then be able to offer is products that have all the advantages of both Palm OS and Windows Mobile. Devices that can run applications written for both operating systems. Ones that would let you choose which user interface you want.
Sharpening the Focus Even More
When the Foleo was canceled, Palm CEO Ed Colligan said it was because "we need to focus our efforts on one platform." I agree, but Palm isn’t really going to concentrate on just one operating system, as it’s going to be releasing Windows Mobile devices even as it develops Palm OS II.
Palm would really be focused if it dropped Palm OS II in favor of its own special take on Windows Mobile.
Given this company’s years of experience developing Treos running Microsoft’s mobile operating system, I see no reason why a model with the new user interface and StyleTap capabilities I have described couldn’t debut next spring. Compare that to the current plan for Palm OS II, which will see its first model debut in the spring of 2009 if we’re lucky.
And this move wouldn’t even have to mean the end of the Foleo II. HTC has demonstrated how well Windows Mobile adapts to laptop-like devices.
Concentrate on What’s Important
With Microsoft handling the underpinnings of the operating system, Palm would be free to concentrate on the parts of its devices that consumers interact with directly.
This spring, Palm hired Paul Mercer, a person many feel is is one of the best in the world at creating user interfaces for computers and mobile devices. I’m really looking forward to seeing what he’ll come up with for a new "look and feel" for Palm. If Palm went with my suggestion, we could all find out before the middle of next year.
And with all the effort of developing Palm OS II off its shoulders, Palm could turn its attention to other areas, like broadening its hardware offerings. There are people practically begging to get a clamshell Treo.
Less Radical Than You Think
I know this sounds like a radical plan, but it’s actually less radical than the alternative: Palm basing its future on an untried operating system.
Instead, Palm could get the benefits of an established operating system, the ability to run the vast majority of third-party applications on the market, and reduced support costs, all the while still giving customers the "Palm Experience" they know and love.