Phones

Palm: Survival of the Weakest?

Despite brave talk, the next six months seem likely to decide whether Palm will grow or fade back into obscurity.

Alas, I am voting for the sad outcome. It will be very difficult for Palm to prosper in the shadow of giants like Google and Apple.

The problem with Palm is that it does not have the presence in the marketplace to compete with Apple's iPhone and Google's Android. Between the two, you have today's dominant platform and its likely successor. It's a Catch-22: You need apps to sell phones, but you need to sell phones to interest developers.

With the iPhone and Android, developers have two obvious platforms for their applications. They do not need or seem to want a third, especially with Android just becoming established. During the time when Palm most needs developer support, Android will be grabbing the lion's share.

Palm may be best remembered for its bad timing. The company released the Pre just in time for Apple to eclipse the Palm handset with its new iPhone 3GS. It then introduced the Pixi just before Apple's September announcements. Worse, its new webOS needs developer support just when Android starts to hit the big time.

Saul Hansell's blog post for the New York Times got me thinking about this once again. He does a good job of explaining the issues, stopping short of predicting failure.

I see no way for Palm, which now has only about 300 applications available. That is after five months on the market. Apple has 100,000 iPhone apps in its catalog. Android has 10,000.

Developers are voting, and they are not voting for Palm.

Palm's best chance for success is with products like its just-released Pixi handset, which does not demand huge developer support. A $99 phone with an advanced operating system and real keyboard is not so much a Droid or iPhone competitor as an option for someone who would otherwise choose a BlackBerry.

If Palm can release a series of inexpensive, not-quite-smartphones, it could survive into the next round, when developers might have more resources to devote to webOS applications.

Such phones provide a migration path for people who aren't ready for an iPhone or Droid, but want a handset capable of more than the phone they already own.

The most Palm can hope for is to survive until after Android establishes itself and then release a next-generation Pre that somehow leapfrogs both Android handsets and the 2010 iPhone and develops a large applications library in a short time.

What do you suppose are the chances of that happening? Me, neither.

David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

Subscribe to the Best of PCWorld Newsletter

Comments