Palm preparing new platform and mystery product

Some interesting developments are brewing at Palm, with the company finally stating its intention to switch to a new, in-house OS built around open source Linux and elements of the original Palm OS (now known as Garnet). It is also preparing to unveil a new product in May, which the company’s founder Jeff Hawkins believes will define a new category of mobile devices.

Apparently products based on the new platform, which Palm has been developing behind the scenes for some years, will focus on delivering great user experience in key areas such as battery life, wireless connectivity and support for mobile web services.

Although Palm does not intend to license the OS to third parties, a PalmInfoCenter report on CEO Ed Colligan’s analyst day presentation suggests the platform will support open application development. According to Colligan, the ‘Palm Experience’ will be all about connected web applications and wireless software distribution.

I suspect this will manifest itself as a closely integrated application discovery and extension engine embedded within the new OS, allowing customers to buy new services from a centralised store. Colligan spoke extensively of his commitment to encouraging the growth of the Palm developer community.

Palm helped to define the mobile technology landscape with its Pilot connected organiser in 1996. It was also one of the first companies to launch a pen-based smartphone, which has since evolved into the popular range of Treo devices. However, its strategic direction has been a mess.

The founders of the company (Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky and Ed Colligan) left Palm in 1998 to form Handspring, a rival company which went on develop the first Palm OS-based smartphones. After a disastrous price war which saw retail prices for handheld computers slashed across the industry, Palm re-acquired Handspring in 2003.

Palm also spun-off its OS business as an independent subsidary in 2002. This was later acquired by Access, a Japanese mobile software developer, in 2005. During this time, Palm also renamed itself palmOne, before subsequently buying back the rights to use the original Palm name and elements of its original OS from PalmSource/Access.

In 2006, Palm launched a Windows Mobile-based device and has continued to sell smartphones based on both the Microsoft OS and its own Palm platform.

Most recently, it has been the subject of intense investor speculation over a possible acquisition by Nokia, Motorola or even a consortium of private equity companies.

The company has had an extraordinary history, but it has survived mainly because it’s commitment to custoemr experience has never faltered. Its products are still held in high esteem by loyal customers and analysts alike for offering a simple and elegant solution for advanced mobile data.

With anticipation mounting over the mystery product Jeff Hawkin’s plans to unveil at the end of May, Palm may show the most extraordinary twist of all and demonstrate its ability to once again out-innovate its bigger competitors.

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