Monday, October 13, 2008

Editorial: Palm Needs an App Store


The 1SRC Editorial is back. This week I write about how Palm needs to build an App Store for Palm OS II/Nova powered smartphones.

Palm is in the midst of a corporate transformation, that, if successful, will put the company back on the map as a mobile computing innovator. Palm executives have outlined the three-step plan as being: People, Design, and Platform. This week we take another look at “Platform.”

In previous 1SRC editorials and podcasts, I have talked about Palm’s transformation and the possible products and services that might coincide with it. We’ve already seen the ramifications of “People.” Palm has been steadily recruiting top technology talent to help drive innovation across the organization. That recruitment process continues today. We have also seen the results of “Design.” The new Treo Pro is a radical departure from the smartphones that have their roots in the Treo 600 design. The last leg of the plan, “Platform,” refers to Palm’s efforts to develop a mobile operating system that will be the successor to Palm OS 5.

We know that work on Palm OS II/Nova is still on going and that devices running the new mobile operating system my not appear in the market place until as late as June 2009. Palm OS II/Nova, I think, is as much a means as it is an end. Yes, when Palm OS II/Nova finally does ship on a Palm smartphone, many people will breath a sigh of relief. Many people question Palm’s ability to deliver a new mobile operating system at all. Having already created five mobile operating systems, I think Palm can handle the creation of a sixth. What is of more long term strategic importance to Palm is the value added services that will be launched alongside of Palm OS II/Nova powered devices.

I have already talked about the possibility of Palm moving to a cloud computing solution to replace the current versions of Palm Desktop and the HotSync Manager for Windows and Mac OS X. A “Mobile Me Too” solution that Palm develops will be a boon for small business users and consumers. Even after the MyPalm.com portal shutdown, I still think that a cloud solution is in the works. Device backups will be another popular cloud service that Palm may provide. The Palm Backup beta, also closed, showed how easy device backups can and should be for people who do not fancy themselves as geeks.

The last piece of the puzzle has to be an application marketplace and application delivery system. This concept is not new to Palm. Palm’s partnership with Bluefish Wireless to provide AddIt on Palm OS devices has been around since 2003. AddIt masquerades as My Centro and My Treo on many of Palm’s recent smartphones and offers customers a means to demo and purchase software from their phones without the need for a desktop computer. Apple’s App Store has no doubt popularized this feature. As Palm prepares to wrap up development of Palm OS II/Nova, they will need to have a new mobile application store ready to go live at the same time.

When Palm OS II/Nova enters the market place, Palm’s competitors will be implementing similar solutions. Apple’s App Store is already online. Microsoft, RIM, and Google have all pledged to deliver similar on device shopping experiences. If Palm wants to be taken seriously as a mobile technology innovator, then Palm OS II/Nova will need an App Store of it’s own.

The frustrating thing for many customers is that Palm already has an under utilized solution with AddIt. We know that the web will play a major role in Palm OS II/Nova, and it stands to reason that a cloud solution makes sense. The trick for Palm, and their developer partners, who will populate the new digital storefront with software for us to buy, is to rework what they have. Palm will no doubt leverage their existing relationship with Bluefish to develop a new front-end client to the backend solution that would be delivered by the new PocketGear. (For those not in the know, PocketGear, formerly associated with Motricity, is the outsource partner that runs Palm’s online software store, Software Connection.) I’m a big fan of leveraging what has already been developed, and it would seem that Palm already has a relationship with business partners who can help create a new solution in short order without having to throw everything away.

In conclusion, I believe that Palm OS II/Nova represents more than a new mobile operating system that will be installed on smartphones from Palm. As I have attempted to demonstrate before, I believe that Palm OS II/Nova will be foundation for new products and services that are likely under development in Palm’s software labs.

The proof will be in the pudding as the saying goes. To that end, Palm should be taking advantage of CES in January and the Mobile World Congress in February to generate excitement with their carrier partners and in the developer community about a new on device software purchasing and delivery solution. Having a strong third-party software ecosystem will be essential to driving the success of Palm and Palm OS II/Nova just like it was when Palm introduced the Palm Pilot some ten years ago.
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