Why I think Palm is a winner
Full disclosure here: I own Palm stock, have a Palm Pre, and overall I think it is a great phone.
Palm as a company has performed nothing less than a feat of death-defiance in its comeback performance this year. In January, its stock was trading at under two dollars per share, and it is up over $17 at the time of this writing. Yes, it has taken on hundreds of millions of dollars in financing to get there, but this shows long-term commitment by investors and that this company is in it to win it now. Palm has executed on its vision of a next-generation hardware and software platform to replace its legacy PalmOS, albeit just in time.
Palm has done a lot of things right. They hired key Apple employees that were involved in product development there. Part of what makes Apple successful is a respect for design and aesthetics. People seem to either get this or not. Palm did what they had to do to hire the people that got it. Palm realized that the future of mobile platforms lies not in proprietary app development, but in web data convergence. The web is turning inside out. We used to ‘log on’ to the web, and now the web ‘logs on’ to our lives. It is always on, and nowhere is this more evidenced than in the mobile sphere. We now carry the internet with us every waking minute on our smartphones. This is a paradigm shift over laptops in that we don’t walk around checking our laptops. Even though we had the potential to open up our laptop at any moment, the barrier was high enough that it was not the same as being always on.
Palm gets this, and this is why the software platform is designed just like the web is. The internal services provided by the phone look just like web services. The apps and software are designed just like web sites. The email client and calendars assume that you have more than one account, and the idea is that everything integrates like a web mashup. This idea cannot be overstated. I think Google has realized this and now we see products in their pipeline such as Chrome OS. I would have expected to see Android devices such as netbooks and mobile internet devices if Google thought that they were on the right track with Android.
Palm understands product. Maybe not to the extent that Apple does, but they understand it better than Google. A phone isn’t just software. The strategic advantage is the software. But consumers don’t buy phones for the software. Palm understands this, Google does not. Google phones are made by HTC, which although successful as an OEM manufacturer, lacks brand recognition and has too many different variants to achieve any significant device recognizability. Carriers use phones as promotional items more than anything else. Sprint and Verizon is touting some small fad variant of last quarter’s hot phone as the next big thing, when in reality they are all largely forgettable. Even Blackberry is falling into this category. Do consumers know the difference between a Pearl and a Storm? I can’t tell the difference anymore between a Blackberry device and another OEM feature phone.