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November 04, 2004

Will palmOne Avoid Being The Next Apple?

Courtesy of Mobile Pipeline

I'd been wondering lately whether palmOne and its one-time sibling, PalmSource, are the Apples of the mobile world. But that notion would be turned on its ear if rumors come true and palmOne develops a Pocket PC version of its Treo smartphone.

I'm hardly the first to wonder if the Palms will go the way of Apple. Superficially, the scenarios are playing out about the same way: A small company with a highly innovative and usable product is muscled aside by the big bruiser from Redmond. Until a year or two ago, Palm dominated the mobile world with its handhelds, but Microsoft's Pocket PC has taken away serious market share from the Palm OS, particularly in the enterprise. PalmOne's market share is still strong, but not nearly as large as it once was.

So the rumor that palmOne was considering a Pocket PC Treo wasn't surprising, particularly since an investment banking firm was responsible for starting the rumor. What was more surprising was palmOne's response.

On the one hand, palmOne said that the investment firm had misinterpreted what its executives said. On the other, it confirmed that it was open to other operating systems if they presented a market opportunity for the company. And, clearly, if palmOne wants to compete in the enterprise, a Pocket PC variant of its popular Treo could help it immensely.

I don't know, of course, if that will happen. But if it did, it would put to rest forever the comparisons between palmOne and Apple. While Apple gave lip service about co-existing with Windows, it wouild sooner have cut off a corporate arm than create a Windows computer. That is symptomatic of Apple's sometimes arrogant insistence that its way was the only, or at least the best, way. As a result, its desktop computers now hold an inconsequential portion of the overall market and the company is being buoyed by its laptops and, more importantly, its iPod music players.

As somebody said in the recent election, there's no point to sticking to your guns if you're aiming in the wrong direction. PalmOne would be wise to consider developing a Pocket PC Treo, at least if it is serious about staying relevant in the enterprise. Such a move would hurt its one-time sibling, PalmSource. But as a palmOne exec said in response to the rumors, that type of creative freedom is why the companies split in two.

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