Palm's Grand Plan to Save the Brand Barely a Plan At All

Illustration for article titled Palms Grand Plan to Save the Brand Barely a Plan At All

Palm is in a tough place right now, with a staid reputation, a decade-old OS and a line of phones that are all, well, sort of boring. The New York Times ran a piece today charting Palm's revitalization plans, which are being carried out under the guidance of CEO Ed Colligan and Apple vet Jon Rubinstein, and they aren't altogether inspiring. Sure, there's always Palm OS 2, but this piece seems to imply (not surprisingly) that we might not see that until the middle of next year. And from the looks of it, Palm's troubles may run deeper than that. Rubinstein, brought in as part of a massive investment deal, seems prone to odd semantic diversions, telling the Times that "Everyone is trying to make an iPhone killer, we are trying to make a killer Palm product." That's lovely, but Palms don't exist in a smartphone vacuum; Palm is ailing because their competitors' products are just better. He follows by saying that he "isn't going to save the company, [the employees] are going to save the company." Which I'm pretty sure means roughly nothing. He claims to have taken a more hands-on approach in fixing Palm. The Times relates a few anecdotes from before the launch of the vital Centro, which almost launched as a buggy, crappy product (a failure that might have buried Palm who's still floating in part because of the 2 million units they've moved):

Rubinstein dispatched a team of executives to Taiwan and China to oversee production more closely. He made them redesign the battery panel on the back so it didn't squeak. And he asked for fixes to the software so it would lock up less frequently. One thing he wanted to fix was the fit of the phone's plastic pieces. When he went around the room and asked who was in charge of that, no one spoke up. Mr. Rubinstein did not relent. "I asked until I found out," Mr. Rubinstein recalled saying. "Then I said, ‘O.K., what do we have to do to get it done?'"

This sound more like hands-on bugfixing than revolutionary management. The attractive Treo Pro may have dropped today (see our first impressions here), but if Palm doesn't deliver a fantastic OS 2, and soon, their future doesn't look too bright. [NY Times]

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The Treo is what saved Palm from death five years ago, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to see how it could save them twice. When the Treo came out, the only competition was a Windows Mobile platform that required rebooting a dozen times a day, whereas the Treo only required half that. Amazing! More importantly, the Palm interface was (and, arguably, still is) easier to use than what Microsoft currently uses.

But that was five years ago. Today the market (in the U.S.) is dominated by RIM and Apple, primarily because their interfaces make Palm and Microsoft look like they invented their products in the early 90's. (Which, I think they did.)

Maybe Palm can create some new 'gotta have it' hardware, much like the Wii. Unfortunately, it is going to take a lot more than the Wiimote of Treo's to fix their situation. While I say it half jokingly, it may be simpler for them to wave the white flag and close shop.