What Have You People Been Doing All This Time?

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Dear people of Palm, Incorporated,

Please understand that I don’t intend the following to be mean. While I haven’t always been your biggest fan, I haven’t been your biggest detractor, either. But right now, I need to be perfectly blunt in asking, what the hell have you people been doing all this time?

Your new executive chairman just announced that devices running your next-generation operating system aren’t going to be out until the middle of 2009 at the earliest, and even that being couched with the phrase "It’s a probably good target." One is forced to the conclusion that either you folks have only recently started development, or else you’re still at such a basic level that it’ll take that much time to produce a working OS and hardware running it. Either way, it speaks poorly of your efforts. Every rational observer has known that you needed to replace Garnet since even before you spun off PalmSource four years ago, and it’s only gotten worse by an order of magnitude since. I don’t know whether you didn’t know, or didn’t care, but you’ve been stumbling along with an antique whose continued functioning speaks more about the determination and inventiveness of its users than it does about the actual robustness of the software.

That’s not even beginning to go into the repeated omission of increasingly basic features like Wi-Fi, or your continued reluctance to embrace anything but minor changes to the original Treo form-factor. I’ve heard your song and dance explanation about what your buyers are looking for: I heard it way back when your company was still insisting that color screens and expansion slots weren’t needed by most customers because monochrome and 8 MB were good enough, and that if someone wanted multimedia capabilities they would buy an MP3 player. Here’s a hint: when it’s clear that you don’t actually know what users want and need, you shouldn’t try to tell them that you do.

The only aspect I find more baffling than your inaction is your attitude. The demeanor of your higher-ups’ public statements has been nothing but optimism and light, while the actual picture for your company has never been more difficult, and the user base never more demoralized. Whether it’s minimizing the potential impact of the iPhone, or your gross over-hyping of the Foleo, it’s hard not to get the feeling that you think everything is turning up roses, even when it’s not. And when so much of the core Palm base is unhappy, these glowing pronouncements only solidify the feeling that you really don’t care about them.

You folks were handed a miracle in 2003 when you bought out Handspring and the original Treo design, and it singlehandedly saved your company. But you’ve spent the last four years pretty much continuously squandering that advantage with minor evolutionary updates, a disregard for servicing the most loyal part of your customer base, and in general all of the exact same mistakes that got you into trouble before. And now, you’re right back where you were in 2003, looking down the barrel of commoditization, lower profit margins, and increased competition. And now it looks like you may even be reenacting the debacle surrounding the development of Palm OS Cobalt. You had a lock on the very beginning of the smartphone market — now you’re increasingly looking like a future also-ran.

It’s for this reason that I have to ask, what have you been doing all this time? Those who fail to learn from history may be doomed to repeat it, but those who refuse to learn from history are just doomed.

 

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