Smartphone Pioneer Palm Drifts Off Into the Ocean of Irrelevance

Treo 650It was a sad moment when I laid my first smartphone to rest last week.

My Palm Treo 650 had been with me through thick and thin.

It had survived countless tosses across the room delivered by my toddler son.

It had been my lifeline to the internet when landline services went dark.

I had posted dozens of entries to my photoblog directly from it.

After almost 3 years in my pocket, barely held together by a combination of Krazy Glue, scotch tape and its last screw, the time had come to bid farewell to this trusty old unit, my Palm Treo 650.

I felt the tears well up as the salesperson in the mobile phone store transferred my service to a new smartphone and the signal bars on my Treo 650 disappeared forever.

I quietly pulled its battery and said good-bye to an old friend.

I also said good-bye to the Palm platform, as I had just purchased a device from hardware manufacturer HTC that runs Microsoft Windows Mobile 6.0.

For, as trusty and dependable as my Treo had been, the software that ran on the device was deplorably ancient.

And Palm recently announced there won’t be any upgrades to its software until at least 2009.

Like my Treo smartphone, the Palm platform itself has been dying a slow death for some years now.

To my mind, this announcement was just the nail in the coffin.

Possibly one of the most mismanaged companies in history, Palm Inc. is now a rudderless tugboat lost in the seas of technology.

The craft’s former captain, Jeff Hawkins — the man largely credited with inventing both the PalmPilot and the Treo — left the company for a career in neuroscience years ago.

Once a proud and powerful example of innovation, the company now putters about from port to port, hawking overpriced excursions in a craft that is fast growing decrepit and redundant.

Palm, the company, has started a long, slow drift out into the ocean of irrelevance.

The corporate history of Palm reads like a bad dime-store pulp fiction novel.

Palm was founded in 1992 as a software company.

It was acquired by U.S. Robotics in 1995, where the first PalmPilot devices were developed.

Two years later 3Com absorbed U.S. Robotics.

The founders of the original Palm left 3Com to form a new company, Handspring, and 3Com spun Palm off into its own publicly-traded company.

Palm Inc., for reasons unknown, then spun its software division off into yet another corporate entity, PalmSource, and that company was acquired by a Japanese firm called ACCESS in 2005.

Just before that, though, the Treo smartphone was invented at Handspring and then Palm Inc. (the hardware company) merged with Handspring to form yet another company, PalmOne.

They couldn’t use the name “Palm” because the trademark for its use has been lost to a holding company somewhere along the line.

That was in 2003, and the classic PalmOne Treo 600 was born of that union.

But the drama wasn’t over yet.

PalmOne bought back the Palm name for $30 million in 2005 and the next year it paid $44 million to buy back its software division from ACCESS.

Yeesh, after 12 years, it’s all the way round to the nearest for Palm: same name, same products, same executive, and millions wasted on reversing some really, really bad business decisions.

Unfortunately, somewhere along that arduous journey the company lost its innovative spark.

Besides some nominal device redesigns, the Treo line of products has gone nowhere in almost 4 years.

The company’s latest misguided shot at innovation, the laptop-like Treo companion called the Foleo, was wisely cancelled before it even hit store shelves.

And, as I mentioned, the operating system on the Treo won’t see any significant upgrades for at least another year.

In a world of amazing handheld devices like the HTC Touch, Apple’s iPhone and the Blackberry Curve, the formerly cutting-edge line of Palm Treos now looks downright dowdy.

And the company seems to have no plans for changing that anytime in the near future.

Their latest release, the Treo Centro, looks like it was inspired by a bar of soap and offers almost nothing in the way of advanced features.

I couldn’t stomach the thought of tossing my own hard-earned dollars into a sinking ship that really should have been resting on the ocean’s bottom years ago.

So I jumped ship instead and, I must say, not a moment too soon. I love my new HTC 5800.

As a physical device, it makes the Treo look like a Studebaker.

In terms of operability, Windows Mobile 6 is responsive, sleek, and capable.

Heck, it can run more than one application at a time, something Palm’s software may never be able to do.

My one misgiving is regarding the device’s sturdiness.

While I could always trust the tank-like Treo would survive my son’s light-hearted tosses, I’m not so sure my new HTC would.

I laid my old Treo to rest in a hole in the backyard right next to the graves of the countless birds lost to the reflective surface of my living room window.

I have little doubt that Palm Inc. will join my trusty old device underground soon enough.

Originally published in the Yukon News on Friday, October 5, 2007.

3 thoughts on “Smartphone Pioneer Palm Drifts Off Into the Ocean of Irrelevance

  1. If only Latitude Wireless carried the Curve. Yukoners are stuck with the Blackberry 8830, sans camera, rendering the device useless for blokes like me. When it comes time to trade in my ancient and well-worn Moto Razr (February 2008) the Curve would be my top pick…if I lived somewhere with GSM, that is.

  2. Hmmmm… something fishy here…How did you manage to score that nifty little HTC up here, Andrew? I wouldn’t mind a little update now that my trusty RAZR’s battery isn’t holding a charge anymore…

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