Easily the biggest news story last week was the one about palmOne considering using other operating systems than the Palm OS in the future. While this is something most of us have heard about before, I wanted to add my two cents to the debate.
When palmOne executives confirmed that they are looking into making handhelds and smartphones with a couple of different operating systems, I was happy to hear it. However, this company has clearly set its sights on being a maker of smartphones, and it needs to be careful that it doesn’t makes its focus too narrow.
While being a company that only makes Palm OS devices has worked up until now, palmOne needs to develop smartphones with a variety of different operating systems if it hopes to survive.
One of the best moves made by Palm/PalmSource in the past few years was the switch from processors made by Motorola to more generic ARM-based processors. This means that a single handheld or smartphone could potentially run multiple operating systems.
Before this change, palmOne was essentially locked into making only Palm OS devices; now, it could make them with a variety of operating systems with relative ease.
It’s hard to admit this, but palmOne really shouldn’t try to make handhelds with anything but the Palm OS. Sadly, it has fallen behind the Pocket PC makers in terms of price per features. The only thing that makes palmOne’s latest model, the Tungsten T5, competitive is the fact that it’s the only new handheld running the Palm OS. The latest high-end Pocket PCs, like the Dell Axim X50v or the HP iPAQ hx4700, have better screens and processors, while offering almost as much Storage capacity.
However, there is an area where palmOne is undoubtedly in the lead: smartphones. The Treo line is the best smartphones money can buy, and palmOne needs to do everything it can to makes these devices appealing to as many people as possible.
palmOne executives have said that their company has looked into making a Treo that runs Microsoft’s Windows Mobile for Smartphones. This would be an excellent idea, as it would make Treos more compelling to IT managers at large companies, many of whom won’t buy something if it doesn’t have the word “Microsoft” on it.
The Scandinavian Connection
In all the information I was able to dig up about palmOne’s investigation of alternate operating systems, I noticed a curious lack: there was no mention of Nokia’s Series 60. While a lot of Americans scratch their heads in confusion when Series 60 comes up, this is the most widely used smartphone platform in the world.
Series 60 almost dominates smartphones in the same way that Windows dominates PC operating systems. However, most Series 60 devices are sold in Europe, so a lot of Americans are ignorant of it.
If palmOne wants to seriously compete in the smartphone market, it has to make a Treo model that uses Series 60. European smartphone buyers (which dwarf American smartphone buyers) are accustomed to this platform, and palmOne needs to embrace Series 60 if it hopes to compete successfully on the other side of the Atlantic.
In some ways, I understand palmOne’s unwillingness to commit to Series 60 at this point. Despite its success, Series 60 it is really quite primitive compared with the Palm OS. However, Nokia has been working hard to give this platform all the features that Treo users are accustomed to, like high-resolution displays and touchscreens. It won’t be that long before Series 60 smartphones will be just as capable as Palm OS ones, while remaining much more popular.
If palmOne is going to commit itself to smartphones, it must not lock itself into just making ones that run the Palm OS. With relative ease, it could take a single device and make multiple versions that run different operating systems: Palm OS, Windows Mobile, and Series 60.