Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Moving Forward: From Here to Palm OS II

Palm’s new executive chairman Jon Rubinstein, during his interview with Dow Jones Newswires last week, indicated that Palm OS II won’t appear on devices from the company until 2009. Here are some ideas of what Palm can be doing between now and then.

2007 – The Year That Wasn’t

2007 is turning out to be a disastrous year for fans of Palm and their products. The long awaited Treo 700p maintenance release (MR) didn’t go far enough to address performance and stability issues with the device in the eyes of customers. The Palm community was shocked when they learned that the next big thing from company founder Jeff Hawkins was not the media enabled handheld that was expected but rather the Foleo Mobile Companion. Largely panned by customers and the media, Palm shamefully cancelled the product just weeks before it was to go on sale. Most recently Palm enthusiast’s were let down yet again when they learned that devices running Palm’s next operating system, dubbed Palm OS II, would not appear until the first half of 2009 according to executive chairman and head of product development Jon Rubenstein. Just last month, Palm CEO Ed Colligan had stated that such devices would appear at the end of 2008.

I have received a number of emails, private messages, and have read posts here on 1SRC sent to me from the Palm community members suggesting that I write an open letter criticizing the management of Palm for what we, their customers, perceive as mistakes and calling the company out of touch with their customer’s requests for new devices and features. At this point, I’m sure that Palm is well aware of what is going on both inside the company and in the community. Since I am more of a “glass-half-full” kind of guy I don’t think pointing out the obvious does a whole heck of a lot of good. Yes we all know Palm needs to get Palm OS II completed and out the door. The management of Palm knows it. We know it. It’s time to move on. The following are some suggestions that I hope Palm takes to heart as they try to complete Palm OS II.


The Road to Palm OS II

Despite what happened in the past, at the end of the day, Palm needs to deliver a Linux-based operating system that will serve as the operating system that will replace Palm OS 5.4. In the absence of an official product name, I have begun calling the project to bring Palm OS to a Linux kernel Palm OS II. I believe that Palm sees this project as critical. However there have been several missteps in the execution to bring this new operating system to market.

The new operating system needs to be fast. I was impressed by how the Foleo handled application switching. The next version of Palm OS needs to have that same capability. Palm OS II also needs to have a slick looking interface. You can thank Apple for that requirement. Most importantly of all is that Palm continues to provide a great user experience on their devices. This means that the OS needs to be intuitive just like Palm OS 5.4; it needs to look good; and it needs to be stable. Palm should take this extra 18 months to deliver compelling software that differentiates them from the competition. Palm must leverage their top-tier developers such as Microsoft, DataViz, and NormSoft to ensure that applications are in place for business users and consumers when the new OS is ready. Lack of software will kill any platform.

Lastly, Palm needs to get more outsiders involved in the testing of Palm OS II. I know that management will bristle at the idea, however, I feel that it is necessary. Some of the problems with the Foleo were only discovered during the beta test that was held just weeks before the product was to ship leaving little or no time to take corrective action. Palm OS II absolutely needs to be stable, include a robust feature set, and be fully vetted by people from the community if it is going to be accepted. When Palm OS II is loaded into the next generation Palm OS Treo, handheld, or Foleo it is essential that the software is ready for a production rollout.


Work on the Hardware

In the time between now and when Palm OS II is officially released on devices, Palm needs to refine their hardware designs. The Centro is a good first step into making a truly consumer oriented device; yet there is still work to do. Like it or not, thin isn’t just for supermodels anymore. Palm needs to figure out how to make their smartphones thinner than the current crop of Treo smartphones. Palm also needs to look at new hardware designs. The discussion boards are full of requests for alternate form factors. I’m not sure the time is right to bring back the Tungsten T-series style slider, but people are asking for it. (HTC makes a few Windows Mobile devices that have slide out keyboards. I’m not sure how popular they are.)

I am a believer in the Foleo concept. During the next year Palm needs to refine the Foleo hardware so that when Palm OS II is completed the hardware will be ready for it. Foleo II should include a faster processor, more RAM, and tools for connecting to and interacting with another Palm OS II device. (Palm also needs more robust Foleo software, but that is an editorial for another time.)

Palm also needs to spend some time with their non-smartphone customers. It is time that Palm retire the Tungsten E2 and TX and replace both handhelds with a refreshed “TX|2”. If you look back at Palm’s quarterly earnings reports you will see that sales figures go up when a new handheld is released. If Palm has any plans for a TX|2 on the drawing board, it’s time to dust them off and move to refresh the TX.

A refreshed TX|2 will be received well even without Palm OS II. I would suggest the following changes and enhancements over the current model:
  • Increase the amount of memory; devote more space to the DBCache
  • Bring back the Drive Mode application
  • Include Bluetooth 1.2 support
  • Upgrade DataViz Documents To Go to version 10
  • Upgrade NormSoft Pocket Tunes to 4.0 Deluxe
  • Upgrade VersaMail to version 4.0
  • Include the daylight savings time patch, Wi-Fi Enterprise Security Update, and security patches
  • Include the Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) update from Palm OS Treo smartphones
All of those suggested updates can be done without spending a large amount of resources (people, time, and money) and can have a significant goodwill pay back to Palm from customers who don’t want a smartphone.

In Conclusion

Palm has their work cut out for them as 2007 comes to a close. Palm has lost their leadership role in the mobile computing market. If Palm wants to once again be an innovative company then they will need to execute their plans with determination and careful planning. Palm can’t afford to have another major product, like the Foleo, cancelled so far along in the development cycle. It won’t be easy. There will be a lot of over time hours that will be needed to make this work.

In 2008 I expect to see an emphasis put on Windows Mobile solutions. I offer up the marketing being put into Microsoft’s System Center Mobile Device Manager and the Office Communications Server 2007 Communicator Mobile client as evidence. For the remainder of 2007 and into 2008 I largely expect Palm to coast along on Palm OS 5.4. Maybe we will see another Centro-like device appear before Palm OS II is ready to take over for the aging operating system.

Palm should also listen to their customers and deliver the solutions that they are demanding: namely another handheld and full support for Windows Vista. As I stated earlier, the time is right for a refreshed Palm TX handheld. People will buy the TX|2 as I have outlined it above and it will generate revenue for Palm.

Palm also needs to get a working solution in place for Windows Vista. (Palm’s own Community Help Forums are loaded with posts from customers who are trying to synchronize their Palm OS devices with Windows Vista.) [Editor’s Note: Alan is an active Palm Community Help Forum moderator.] The holidays are right around the corner and there will be a lot of people this holiday season who will find new Vista computers and Cento smartphones under the tree. Without a working 32 and 64-bit Vista compatible version of Palm Desktop I am willing to predict that it will be the Centros and not the computers that will be returned come January. Palm, you need to put pressure on ACCESS to get this synchronization mess cleaned up. (As it turns out, the consumer version of Windows Vista will be one year old come January.)

For all of the negative press that Palm has been getting this year, they have some good products. 2008 will be critical for Palm as they complete the products that will appear in 2009. The Palm TX, Treo 755p, and Centro are examples of successful product launches. Palm needs more of these success stories during the coming year to restore customer confidence in the company.

If done right, I believe that Palm can turn things around and be the mobile computing leader that they once were.

[Originally posted by Alan G on 1SRC.com]
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