Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

Is PalmOS on it’s way Out?

Posted by Michael Brown on February 7, 2005

I got an e-mail from a client a few days ago, which is the inspiration for this blog. The gist of it was that he heard from someone that Palm OS was on it’s way out, and that he should start looking at Windows Mobile PDA’s. He was looking for my opinion on them, which I gave him (a good subject for a future blog).

While the venerable “Palm Pilot” has become synonymous with handheld computing, Palm OS is facing stiff competition on two major fronts: RIM’s Blackberry, and MS Mobile handhelds – specifically those from Dell and HP (formerly made by Compaq).

The first thing Palm OS has to contend with is the (mis)perception that Windows Mobile (aka Pocket PC, aka WinCE) devices will synchronize better with MS Windows PC’s simply because they’re both Microsoft “Windows” brand products. Well, that’s simply not the case. Most Palm handhelds come with conduits that will syncronize your PIM (Personal Information Manager) information with MS Outlook. Most palmOne handhelds also come with bundled software allowing you to work with MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint files on your handheld. Case in point: all of the PowerPoint training materials delivered by Solutions At Hand were composed on my Palm Tungsten T using DocsToGo, and are delivered using QuickPoint and a presentation device which connects my Palm to my LCD projector.

Another thing is that Microsoft, Dell and HP (makers of the Axim and iPAQ handhelds, respectively) have a greater advertising presence than palmOne, PalmSource, Tapwave, Garmin, and all of the other Palm OS licencee’s combined. And they’ve been using that presence to great effect, pushing the multi-media aspects of their handhelds in such a way that the general public doesn’t believe that Palm Powered devices are capable of the same things. Sony and their Clie line of Palm OS PDA’s made great strides in pushing the bounds of what Palm handhelds are capable of doing, and many saw Sony’s departure from the North American PDA market to be a death blow for Palm OS (subject for a future blog). Multi-media on Palm didn’t die with Sony’s departure. The Tungsten T5, for example, sports MP3 and video playback, and it’s cradle features an audio out for headphones or powered speakers. Almost all current Palm models ship with MP3 player software, and video playback is available with 3rd party software add-ons. Cobalt, the next generation Palm Operating system, will ship with an integrated media player.

Lastly, the recent acquisition of a Chinese company (China MobileSoft) by PalmSource shows just how seriously they want to expand the reach of Palm OS. This particular company specializes in embedding Linux into mobile products like cellular phones. Cell phones and other “embedded” products like MP3 players are big business. Many of the manufacturers of these devices have to either licence an operating system, or roll their own in order to make their devices work. Both of those are expensive choices, either in money paid out for licensing fees, or paid internally on salaries and R&D. With Linux, manufacturers have a robust, modular, customizable OS that doesn’t cost anything in license fees. Where’s this going? Imagine the “Palm Pilot” organizer functions embedded into sub-$100 cell phones, MP3 players, and even wrist watches with mass market sales and appeal. Add to that the ability to add on 3rd party programs to customize your device, and a migration path to more powerful handhelds and smartphones for power users and you have the Palm OS running on millions of devices world-wide. The China MobileSoft acquisition will give manufacturers the ability to put the user-friendly Palm interface onto their Linux powered devices, giving them inroads into many different product markets.

So, when you really look at these changes, you can see that Palm OS is not on its way out. Yes, Sony may have left the North American PDA scene (they’re still making Palm Powered handhelds for the Japanese market), but one thing that Microsoft hasn’t been tooting is that they’ve also had companies exit from making Windows Mobile handhelds – specifically Casio and Toshiba. I’m continuing to base my business on Palm Powered handhelds and smartphones, and I’m not concerned about these changes in the marketplace. Actually, I’m rather excited about these changes, so I feel very confident in saying that Palm OS is here to stay.

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