PalmSource and the smart phone wars continued...
Time for a quick look at the continuing story of the burgeoning smart phone market. I find I can work a bit better when I get these sorts of thoughts out of my skull and onto the screen.
In the press this week PalmSource announced it's upcoming "dual OS" smart phone strategy, where it would repurpose both PalmOS 5 and 6 for smart phones, the former for low-end mobiles (sub $100) and the latter for high end smart phones. This is a great strategy... if we lived in Bizarro world. The low end market is gone for PalmSource, they missed the boat. Maybe when they launched PalmOS 5 two years ago, then was the time to concentrate on getting that OS into smart phones, but they didn't and that opportunity is gone now.
Admittedly, the vast majority of phones out there aren't smart phone class phones. You can probably list on both hands the actual number of phones with a real OS available right now. So if you look at this static picture of the marketplace, then yeah, PalmSource's low-end strategy makes sense. All those Samsung and Toshiba and Sanyo phones out there with low-power running their own custom OS are prime targets for a system like PalmOS 5 where processor power is not needed and things like multimedia is an add-on extra.
But the market *isn't* static. The phones that are going to be sold in 2005 are already being designed and developed *today* and right now Palm doesn't have an OS for them. That means the earliest they could get deals to get phones in the stores is late 2005 or 2006. That's just not going to do them any good because by that time carriers and customers are going to be demanding a lot more from their phones. Yeah, PalmOS 5 can do a lot, but its competition can do more, it's that simple. And saying that PalmSource's OS will be targeted at "cheap" smart phones is just dumb. Phones with contracts are *already* cheap (if not free).
PalmSource needs to drop the OS5 strategy all together. It's a loser. Their only salvation is PalmOS 6 (or whatever it'll be called). Now the good news is that someone finally clocked CEO Nagel upside the head with a cluestick and so after saying no originally to OS6 on smart phones, it now looks like they're going to aim for the "high end" smart phones with the OS. Finally! This is the *only* way to compete against the *other* 32 bit multitasking, multimedia operating systems out there. OS5 was nice for its time/place in history, but that's since passed us by. Nagel just needs to pull the trigger and put it down, once and for all. I wonder how much time they'll lose and resources they'll waste on this strategy before they come to this same conclusion?
And speaking of the other OSes, let me tell you that I finally got to fondle a Windows Mobile Smartphone for a few minutes the other day and it was surprisingly good. Actually, it was amazingly good. Compelling, easy to use, quick menus, all the functionality that I would expect (and more). As someone who (regretfully) uses Windows on a daily basis, I was completely at home with the UI and icons, etc. Seeing the Internet Explorer icon was obviously where I would browse the web. The MSN Messenger icon showed me I could chat, the File manager was clean, the back button worked intelligently and clearly, the home screen with the organized PIM info was incredibly useful.
In short, it's just as good if not better from a user interface standpoint as the Series 60 phones. Honestly, if Nokia was in Microsoft's camp (even with just one toe), there'd be no talk about Symbian at all because it was obvious to me that Microsoft has poured tons of resources into that OS and all it needs now is a path to market. Of course, all the "little" things about that OS are bad like battery life, reliability, etc. (It is a Microsoft product after all). But the kernel of usability is there and now it's just refinements. We all know what happens when Microsoft's products go 3.0. If I thought it would help to go to rooftop and ring a bell so that Symbian and its partners would do more to ward off the coming doom of Microsoft's Mobile OS, I would, because if things don't change quick in the Symbian world they're going to have real competition sooner than later.
Don't ask me about Linux on the phones. I don't know. Lots of speculation, but I haven't actually seen one yet. When I hold a Linux based smart phone in my hand, it'll be a "real" contender. But until then it's marginalized. Java is also a freakin' nightmare to think about. Yeah it runs everywhere, but it's also a slightly different version running everywhere, and a lobotomized version at that. Java plays no role in the smart phone market in my mind until there's J2SE on the handset. Period. Someone please hand this paragraph to Scott McNeally for me so he gets a clue. PROGRAMMERS WANT J2SE ON THEIR PHONE. GET IT?!?!?
Anyways, all this isn't just noise. In my opinion, the mobile phone market is converging on smart phones. PDAs are disapearing, cellular data speeds are ramping up, services are appearing, demand is building, etc. MMS Camera phones were just the beginning (and what a successful beginning it was). Now that customers have gotten a taste of their phone having color screens and added functionality like web browsing and video recording, they're going to want more and better. Microsoft is going to try to become the dominant smart phone OS through the corporate market, and from what I've seen of the UI and tactics of Microsoft, they're going to do well with that strategy. Nokia/Symbian are aiming at the consumers first and then trying to figure out what the corporate market wants after (this seems pretty much doomed to me from what I've seen so far. Corporations are used to writing big-checks to Microsoft, but Nokia?) and that could be the right way to go since the volumes for consumer devices is *so* huge that it could put them way out ahead before Microsoft has a chance to get a decent phone out there (the Moto with Bluetooth I read has been delayed another quarter... that's a good thing for Nokia & company).
And now back to PalmSource. They seem to want it both ways - aiming at the low end for I assume the dumb-ass consumers out there (the ones that bought the original Zire for example) and it also wants a higher-end smart phone targeted at... well I'm not sure. PalmOne seems to be doing well with its Treo 600 in the corporate market, but for how long and how much of a role is PalmSource playing in that success, anyways? I'm not sure. Hopefully at next week's Palm Developer Conference we'll hear some more about the strategy because right now it sounds like they're dividing their resources in half and taking on both Microsoft and Nokia at the same time. Basically, how fucking stupid can you be? (Someone can hand this paragraph to David Nagel if they want as well).
Okay, nice to have gotten that bit out of my system.