Over past couple of weeks, a lot has been reported on rumors that PalmOne is trying out alternative operating systems including Microsoft Pocket PC edition and Linux for its hot selling Treo and Palm devices. Some, or perhaps even most of it might be true. Whatever the outcome, it remains to be seen. I have a feeling people are looking at this whole debate from the wrong side of the lens.
The more serious debate on this should be the impact of all this on PalmSource, the OS part of the Palm family. In a recent episode of CSI, the lead character said that if you listen hard enough, you can find the real story. I think it is true in this case. I think beyond the noise, you can hear the ominous tick-tock of the death clock for Palm Source. Isn’t it entirely possible that Palm Source has fallen so drastically behind that now Palm One has to start looking for alternatives like Linux and Microsoft Pocket PC. If the new Palm OS Cobalt 6.1 was all that, why would Palm One be looking for options.
From what I have heard, the so called multi-tasking that was going be the key new feature in the new OS is not all that its cracked-up to be. Or that Palm One would have to junk the “telephony stack” it bought from Handspring, and replace it with the one in Cobalt. Or that all the mods it needs to make to its existing applications are going to be tough to port to Cobalt.
Some app-developers I have heard from say that porting their old Palm OS apps to the new one is a bitch, and they are contemplating switching to other platforms. On the hardware side, Palm Source has only managed to convince Taiwanese ODMs to sign-up for Cobalt. We have not even heard polite noises from top tier vendors like Samsung, which hasn’t released a Palm OS-based phone in months now. I have not seen a Kyocera phone with Palm OS in months. Sony has high-tailed it from the PDA market more or less and its cellphone OS of choice is Symbian (via the Sony Ericsson JV.) Sure there a few others like Tapwave and AlphaSmart, but they really are not meaningful. It is safe to say that a large portion of its revenues are still coming from PalmOne. (Treos being the primary contributor!) Now if your biggest customer is exploring alternatives, then you are screwed aren’t you!
Now here is another one which you folks might want to ponder about: If Palm One goes with another OS, it becomes a plain vanilla handset maker who competes with Motorola, Samsung, Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Sharp, Chinese cloners ….. tick….tock…. tick…tock!