NTT DoCoMo buys 11.66% of Palm OS. Watch this space.

When I worked at Palm, I was always amazed at how different the mobile market looked in various parts of the world. Although human beings are basically the same everywhere, the mobile infrastructure (key companies, government regulation, relative penetration of PCs, local history) is dramatically different in every country, and so the markets behave very differently. Even within Europe, the use and adoption of mobile technology varies tremendously from country to country.

And then there's Japan, which has its own unique mobile ecosystem that gets almost completely ignored by the rest of the world, even though a lot of the most important mobile trends started there first (cameraphones, for example).

I try to keep tabs on Japan through several websites that report Japanese news in English. Two are Mobile Media Japan and Wireless Watch Japan. They both post English translations of Japanese tech news, and you find all sorts of interesting tidbits that are almost completely beneath the radar in the US.

Case in point: at the end of November, NTT DoCoMo announced that it is raising its ownership of Access Corp from
7.12% of the company's stock to 11.66%, for a price of about $120 million. That's right, the same Access that just bought PalmSource. So DoCoMo, one of the world's most powerful operators, now owns 11.66% of Palm OS and the upcoming Linux product(s). This story got passing mentions on a couple of enthusiast bulletin boards, but I didn't see anything about it anywhere else.

It's possible that the DoCoMo investment has nothing to do with Palm OS or Linux. Access provides the browser for a lot of DoCoMo phones, and it frequently subsidizes suppliers in various ways for custom development. But $120 million is a lot for just customizing a browser…

DoCoMo is a strong supporter of mobile Linux for 3G phones, and you have to assume that Access is in there pitching its upcoming OS. I can just picture the conversation: "You already get the browser from us, why don't we just bundle it with the OS for one nice low fee?" Meanwhile, Panasonic just dropped Symbian and plans to refocus all its phone development on 3G phones and mobile Linux. You have to figure Access is talking to them as well.

I don't think most of the mobile observers in the US and Europe realize how intense the interest is in mobile Linux in Asia. A lot of very large companies are putting heavy investment into it. I'm sure this is why Access was willing to pay more than double PalmSource's market value to buy the company.

It's going to be very interesting to see what Access does to make that investment pay off in 2006.

(PS: In case you're wondering, I have no ties to PalmSource/Access and no motivation to hype their story. I just want folks to understand that the mobile OS wars aren't even close to over.)


Anonymous said...

The war's not over with, but it's winter in Russia and Napolean is about to discover what that means.