Access Linux Platform and the future of Palm OS

A friend asked me the other day what I thought of Access/PalmSource's recent announcement of the Access Linux Platform (formerly known as Palm OS). I think it's interesting, and there are some hopeful signs. But my main takeaway is that we should probably stop thinking of this thing as the successor to Palm OS, and instead judge it as a new mobile OS based on Linux. Here's why...

When you do a pre-announcement like this, you're usually looking to accomplish a couple of things. You want to make your customers have faith in the future. You want to generate good buzz among the press, analysts, and the online community. And you want to convince possible allies and licensees to work with you. From that standpoint, it looks like the announcement was at least a partial success.

The Linux community is a critical audience for Access/PalmSource right now – one of Access's first goals must be making its mobile Linux the preferred version among the Linux community. Their support will help win licensees. To help make this happen, Access has released some Palm OS code to the open source community, and it has promised to incorporate some Linux standard technology in the new OS.

The reaction on Slashdot wasn't conclusive, but there was a very supportive article on Ars Technica. It said exactly the sot of things you'd like to hear from the Linux community. (If you don't know Ars Technica, it's a very good hangout for technophiles. It often posts much more thorough analyses than most other websites, so it's a very useful resource.)

There were also encouraging noises from parts of the Palm OS developer community. David Beers wrote a nice commentary. David is a prominent Palm OS developer, and although he wants the platform to succeed, he's not at all a fanboy. I'm sure Access wants to hang onto as many Palm OS developers as it can, so posts like this are encouraging.


Analyzing the quotes

One of the traditional elements in a pre-announcement press release is the quotes section, where you get all those stilted quotes from various allied vendors. It usually reads a little like old Soviet propaganda -- and like propaganda you learn more by reading between the lines than you do from the actual quotes.

The game works like this: The company issuing the press release wants quotes from as many prominent companies as possible, and wants the language to be as supportive and specific as possible. The people providing the quotes usually don't want to make too many specific promises, and are often more interested in promoting their own products than in saying anything nice about the actual subject of the press release.

Typically business development people spend a lot of time negotiating these things, down to small details of the quotes.

Access's performance in the quotes game was mixed. The quotes section starts with useful endorsements from LIPS and OSDL, both of which are Linux organizations. I think the placement of these quotes up front shows how much importance Access puts on the Linux community. LIPS (the Linux Phone Standards Forum) consists of France Telecom plus a bunch of Linux and telephony infrastructure companies. OSDL (Open Source Development Labs) is the home of Linus Torvalds and calls itself the center of the Linux community. OSDL's founding members include IBM, Intel, NEC, and HP, so it has a lot of heft. The OSDL quote helps to legitimize Access in the Linux community (I was kind of surprised Access put its quote second on the list).

Wind River was also quoted, which is good because you want the OS to work with standard distributions of Linux. And I was very pleased to see quotes from two mobile operators, NTT DoCoMo in Japan and Telefonica in Europe. Those are very significant because they signal to handset companies that there's a market for devices based on this software.

There are also quotes from several phone component manufacturers – Freescale (formerly Motorola Semiconductor), Intel, Samsung Semiconductor (not the mobile phone group, alas), NEC's semiconductor team, and Texas Instruments. Even though many of the quotes are very noncommittal (basically saying "we like anything involving Linux, and we hear Access is using Linux"), quotes from companies like these are helpful because they reassure potential licensees that a lot of components will be available for phones based on the software.

And there's a quote from Motricity (the parent company of software distributor PalmGear). This seemed strange to me because Motircity doesn't have any direct involvement in the development of the OS. I interpret the quote as a sign that Access was trying to scrape up as many partner quotes as possible.


Who's missing?

There are several glaring omissions from the list of quotes. Before I go into the details, I want to acknowledge that it's easy to read too much into the absence of any particular company from a quotes list. Sometimes there's an innocent explanation – their lawyers didn't like the quote, or an executive who needed to approve it was on vacation. But still, a couple of things stood out to me...

The first is the absence of other operators. Orange in the UK has historically been a strong Treo supporter, and it's owned by France Telecom, which is a member of LIPS. So I was quite surprised that there was no Orange quote. Even more surprising was the absence of any US operators. T-Mobile hasn't ever been warm to Palm OS, and Verizon is very conservative, so I wasn't alarmed that they weren't quoted. But where the heck is Sprint, the original champion of the Treo? And where's Cingular, which has lately been one of the biggest Treo endorsers? I think their absence is not a good sign.

It was also disappointing that neither of the major Chinese phone operators was quoted. Much of the development work on Access Linux is being done in China, and the country is mad for Linux, so you'd think at least one of the operators would be willing to say something positive about the OS.

There's no quote from Monta Vista. That's kind of spooky, since MontaVista and PalmSource had announced plans to work together just last August. I presume the relationship is not going well. I was also disappointed not to see a quote from the CE Linux Forum, an embedded Linux consortium that includes a number of major consumer electronics companies. Access and PalmSource are both members, so you'd think they could have gotten some sort of quote.

But my biggest question was, where are the licensees? Where are Samsung, LG, GSPDA, Garmin, Symbol? Where's Palm? Given all the work that Palm has been doing to reassure its Palm OS-using customers, I was very surprised that there wasn't a quote from them in the press release. It's possible that the licensees didn't want to hint at a pre-announcement of a future product, since that could hurt their current sales. But I'm wondering if there might also be business issues.

Access's announcement said that the new Linux platform will be available to licensees as an SDK (software development kit) by the end of the year. You use the SDK to write applications, but you need the PDK (product development kit) to actually develop a device. As far as I know, Access hasn't even given a public date for the PDK, other than to say that it'll be after the SDK. Unless there's some sort of special pre-availability release to certain licensees, or Access is sand-bagging the date, we're going to see a very long runway until devices are released with the new OS. Palm typically takes a year or more to build an OS into a new device (much of the delay is because they have to rework their proprietary PIM apps to run with the new OS). That might mean you wouldn't see a Treo based on the new OS until late 2007 or maybe even spring of 2008. Perhaps an Asian phone vendor could ship something sooner, but I think you'd still be looking pretty late in 2007.

That's not a life-threatening disaster for Access, since they have deep pockets and can take the time to get the product right. But I think it might be a very significant business problem for Palm. Most of the carriers are now heavily into their migration to 3G. Even six months ago, they were very reluctant to consider adding any non-3G products to their smartphone product lines. There are strong rumors of a Treo 700p, running on Sprint's EVDO 3G network, to ship this summer. I can see that happening since Palm traditionally did its own work to adapt Palm OS to Sprint and Verizon's networks. But I don't know if Palm has the capability to adapt the current version of Palm OS to work with the UMTS 3G standard used by the world's GSM operators. If not, Palm might not be able to ship a Palm OS compatible Treo on 3G GSM networks until the end of 2007. That would have a huge impact on potential Treo sales in Europe, Africa, parts of Asia, and parts of the US.

Some people have speculated online that Palm may be planning to move completely to Windows Mobile. I doubt that's their intent, but given the strong demand for 3G among GSM operators, Palm may not have a choice but to put a lot more investment against Windows Mobile, since it's compatible with UMTS right now.

That's why Palm's silence on the new OS worries me.

So I end up feeling that the announcement was a mixed bag. It looks like Access is assembling a credible (if complex) mobile Linux product. Given the endorsements from Telefonica and especially NTT DoCoMo, I think it has a chance to get some design wins. But I'm very worried about the situation with Palm and the US operators.


Is Access too late?

Not unless you think the phone market is about to standardize down to a single OS, and I see absolutely no sign of that. Most users don't really care what the mobile OS is, they just want a product that works well. So I think the door will be open when Access finishes. But because of the delays, and the uncertainties with Palm, I'm starting to feel strongly that we should view the Access platform not as a direct continuation of the Palm OS, but as a new entrant that happens to inherit some technologies from PalmSource.

I mean this not just in technical terms, but in business terms. If you view Access Linux as a continuation of Palm OS, you immediately notice that a lot of key Palm Economy players haven't lined up to endorse the product. It's pretty disturbing. On the other hand, if you view Access Linux as a new mobile OS based on Linux, it's doing extremely well to have so many companies endorsing it when it's still 18-24 months away from shipping in phones. The future's pretty bright for something, but I'm not sure we should think of that thing as Palm OS.

21 comments:

florent pillet said...

It would be easy to go back and explain the Cobalt fiasco. Some of us did notice the first warning signs of megalomania when PalmSource decided to produce their own compilers (far away from their mission, which is to produce an OS) and kernel -- the dreaded Not Invented Here syndrome.

Is Access going to make the same mistakes? I'm not even sure it matters at all. As you mentioned it, it's late for a new OS to get in the game while Microsoft is gaining more support for Windows Mobile, and licensees stick with Garnet which works fine for their needs, thank you.

From a technical point of view, my main concern about the Access Linux Platform is that it looks very much like a pot pourri, with nothing less than three different UI frameworks.

A company like Apple has the engineering power to maintain two main development frameworks (Carbon and Cocoa, though boundaries are sometimes fuzzy). Access/PalmSource has to maintain GHost (the 68k Palm OS emulator) and their GTK port, while developing the MAX framework -- a daunting task, if you want my take.

The Cobalt project died of being too ambitious. I hope the Access Linux Platform won't suffer of its lack of vision and coherency. I've been a strong supporter of Palm OS for nine years now, but I feel this is the last shot for PSI.

In 1997, an issue of Wired Magazine showed an apple surrounded by barbwires with a caption just saying: "Pray". Apple was on the verge of dying, it was before Steve Jobs came back to reanimate the company with his strong vision and leadership.

When I think about the future of PalmSource, I can't help thinking about this cover. It hurst to see our beloved OS endangered, yet there's nothing we can do to help at this point.

Marty Fouts said...

ALP isn't a new OS, you know. It's just a Linux kernel with a few existing odds and ends tacked on. PalmOS compatibility is coming from POSE, which is an easy port, most of the rest of it comes from Access' existing product.

MAX is the only interesting new bit, and certainly a project within the range that Access is capable of.

Mike Rohde said...

Nice article Mike, very thought provoking.

As I read this and you asked who was missing from the quotes, my first reaction was "where's Palm, Inc. i this list?" and sure enough they were one of the players quite absent from the quotes.

I am concerned about Palm OS; sooner or later Palm OS 5 will not remain a viable OS for Palm or other hardware people and they must choose something. Already Windows Mobile is available for the Treo, and as you state, already works for the kind of 3G coming very soon. Will Palm bother to re-hack OS 5 Garnet to work — doesn't seem likely.

Further, one of your recent posts about the HP regorg and a few other articles read last week have had me me thinking of the strange days we're in now. HP is losing steam it would seem and of all the players in the Windows Mobile area, Palm is rising, maybe becoming one of the most dominant Windows Mobile device makers in the smartphone area.

If someone travelled back in time to tell me this just one year ago, I'd have freaked out. Now add in that PalmSource's Linux OS may not be ready for a few more years — sure seems to me that Palm's only course of action would be to move completely to Windows Mobile at the next phase.

Well, I too hope Access is doing the right thing, but long delays seem so painful right now, just at the moment Windows Mobile seems to be poised at taking over the smartphone world.

As Florent suggests: Pray, indeed.

Michael Mace said...

Wow, good comments. Please keep it up.

A couple of thoughts...


>>it's late for a new OS to get in the game while Microsoft is gaining more support for Windows Mobile

I agree that Microsoft's gaining support, but I don't think it'll be too late for a new OS. The mobile market seems to be much more resistant to consolidation than the PC market was. I think Access has time to establish something new -- especially since there's so much pent-up demand for mobile Linux, and because they're clearly working the back channels with the operators already.


>>It hurts to see our beloved OS endangered, yet there's nothing we can do to help at this point.

I understand how you feel.

Frankly, I think Access is doing a very poor job of reassuring the Palm OS user community. The technical update was great, but no one has stepped up publicly to explain the business strategy. We're all kind of making it up through inference.

The fact that folks are falling back on the Apple analogy is a sign of how much despair is building up among Palm OS users. Access doesn't seem to care about this, or maybe they just can't see it from Japan.

For what it's worth, I think the Apple analogy is quite inappropriate here. Apple was in imminent danger of financial extinction. In contrast, Palm is profitable and Access has tons of money. Both companies are actually far better off financially than they were a year ago.

I think the question for Palm OS is more of an existential one – if you take this long to make this many changes, with this much possible turnover in licensees, is the resulting platform a continuation of Palm OS, or should you really think of it as something new? I'm coming around to the idea that we should think of it as something new, a fresh start that just happens to be backward compatible with Palm OS apps.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just a different thing. It'll take some getting used to.


>> From a technical point of view, my main concern about the Access Linux Platform is that it looks very much like a pot pourri, with nothing less than three different UI frameworks.

Yeah, I had the same reaction. Whether or not it's actually hard to develop all that stuff (and Marty's note implies that it's not too hard), that block diagram of the new OS looked frighteningly complex.

It's hard to win with that sort of diagram, though – if it was too simple we'd be saying the OS didn't have enough features.


>> sure seems to me that Palm's only course of action would be to move completely to Windows Mobile at the next phase.

Oh no, there's a lot of other stuff they could do, ranging from an in-house OS to many other software platforms that are available out there. And hopefully there's a way to make the current version of Palm OS work with 3G. Looks like they can definitely do it for the CDMA operators; the open question is UMTS/GSM, and quite honestly I don't know the answer there.

I think we should all assume that Palm is very strongly biased to keep on building Palm OS compatible devices as long as there's demand for them. They'd be dumb to do otherwise.

To paraphrase Field of Dreams: If you come, they will build it.


>> Windows Mobile seems to be poised at taking over the smartphone world.

Yeah, well, Microsoft specializes in making people think that they're about to take over lots of things. Yet when I talk to Windows Mobile licensees, what I generally hear is how uncomfortable they are. And then there's Nokia dinking around with Linux. I don't know of any major smart mobile company that's entirely happy with its OS strategy right now, because none of the platforms are producing end-user demand.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe the current Palm OS can support UMTS, as one of it's primary requirements is voice and data sessions running concurrently. With current Palm OS smartphone devices (ie Treo) data sessions are placed on hold during a voice call. If they tried this trick with a UMTS Palm OS device it would fail GCF and carrier testing around the world.

Unfortunately it's not a "simple" threading issue. Palm OS on Treo already runs multiple threads for certain tasks (and I believe this will continue with the imminent release of the BBC client).

Hopefully someone in Sunnyvale can weave some magic, as I really don't relish the idea of picking up a WM Treo just to get highspeed data services... :-/

Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the info, Anonymous.

>>Hopefully someone in Sunnyvale can weave some magic, as I really don't relish the idea of picking up a WM Treo just to get highspeed data services

Agreed. If the CDMA guys had better coverage where I live, it wouldn't be as big of an issue to me, but I get CDMA only in my front yard.

Scott R said...

"Most users don't really care what the mobile OS is, they just want a product that works well."

Hello again Mike. I think this comment sums up the current situation pretty well. This works to Access' favor, as you mentioned, but it also works against them (and Microsoft, and Symbian...). I think too much value is given to the mindshare of these OSes. As you said, mobile devices aren't PCs. I don't spend $250 on a piece of software for my mobile device (and probably don't spend $250 TOTAL on various apps) so I needn't concern myself about maintaining compatibility as I get a new device. Nor do I need to worry about maintaining compatibility with "other people." I take it for granted that I can send email, send images, do that sort of thing, in universally compatible formats.

As a user, all I care about is whether the device offers me a good set of features, a good user experience, and the promise of expandability (if it doesn't do everything I think I might need out of the box).

What concerns me about ALP is the hodge-podge nature of it, as Florent mentioned, combined with the "Hey, it's running Linux! That's good enough to be excited about it, right?" attitude. I (and the mass market of end-users) don't care about Linux. In fact, I'd suggest that the average consumer thinks of Linux as being "complicated" (and that's not a good thing).

While these big OS makers of the past come out with their next mobile OS versions, the really exciting, eye-candy, feature-rich developments seem to be happening on...(ready?)...the feature-phone front. While Access demos an early build of their next-gen OS running...what?!?...the Memo app?!?, we have devices like the ESPN phone with out-of-the-box MP3 player, super-sharp screen (2.1" 240x320), and gaudy eye-candy galore. And with Hawkins and the original Palm OS GUI folks long since gone from PalmSource, why should I have any faith that they MAX will be the amazing next-gen zen-like user experience that they're promising?

If Access can deliver, than fantastic. But for the past year or so I've been anxiously looking around for some other company to come out of nowhere with an all-new platform. I really think we need that. The Palm OS was great for what it was designed to be, but several years later we're now running it on devices for which it was never intended. Wishful thinking, perhaps, but I'm curious/hopeful about what Rubin/Android is up to. Or maybe Hawkins hasn't abandoned his first love and is up to something special in a cave at Palm.

David Creemer said...

Hey Mike-

Nice article, as always. Your points concerning the inventory of quotes about the release hits the nail right on the head. I'll say it a bit more bluntly perhaps than you. I think the reason PalmSource / Access does not have quotes from most of the existing or past PalmSource customers and partners, is history. These partners have spent years being the victim of PalmSource's failed commitments, inability to deliver, and sometimes lies. That's why I quit the company. Almost all of the quotes are from companies or individuals who have not (yet) been screwed by PalmSource.

I hope that Access's management have set things straight and their new OS will be everything they claim it can be. But the PalmSource team has to do much, much more than publish a "boxes and lines" chart of a new OS before any old partner will speak to them again.

Anonymous said...

Can you clarify a couple things, Mike?


Most of the comments I've heard or seen from users regarding Access Linux Platform has been overwhelmingly negative. Some would argue that if you have to quote a developer like David Beers to support the positive side then you must really be reaching to find something good to say about the reaction to Access Linux Platform.

You said, "And I was very pleased to see quotes from two mobile operators, NTT DoCoMo in Japan and Telefonica in Europe. Those are very significant because they signal to handset companies that there's a market for devices based on this software." But didn't DoCoMo recently invest a lot of money in Access? Wouldn't it be expected that they'd have a lot of positives to say about a company that they partially own?

Your guess of no real hardware with the new OS until 2008 isn't a surprise. And if they ever run into development problems like we saw with Cobalt, then what? 2009? 2010? How long do you think Access has before it's too late to release a new mobile OS? And what if Nokia's Maemo platform or a new inexpensive Linux platform steals Access Linux Platform's thunder in 2006?

Does Palm have the manpower to hack Garnet for high speed CDMA and GSM smartphones, hack Windows Mobile, support Garnet and Windows Mobile and also develop and support Access Linux Platform smartphones? That's a lot to expect from a smallish company.

You said, "For what it's worth, I think the Apple analogy is quite inappropriate here. Apple was in imminent danger of financial extinction. In contrast, Palm is profitable and Access has tons of money. Both companies are actually far better off financially than they were a year ago." Is Palm really that profitable? How much profit are they making each year? And how much money does Access have? I thought the buyout of PalmSource stretched Access pretty thin.

Michael Mace said...

Wow, the quality of the comments here is fantastic.


Scott wrote:

>>why should I have any faith that they MAX will be the amazing next-gen zen-like user experience that they're promising?

I haven't heard what they're promising for Max. I knew a fair amount about Rome, the UI design what was apparently Max's predecessor. It had some very nice things about it.

But I'm not sure the goal of any mobile OS company is to produce a thrilling zen-like user experience. Most of them want to produce an easily customized user experience that operators can easily tweak with their own little graphical doodads. The OS is infrastructure, it's plumbing for the people paying the bills -- handset companies and operators.


>>I'm curious/hopeful about what Rubin/Android is up to. Or maybe Hawkins hasn't abandoned his first love and is up to something special in a cave at Palm

Cool idea -- we should compile a list of the intriguing mobile projects that are in the works. Here's my list:

-Jeff Hawkins' "secret" device project. A number of very good Palm veterans are working on it, and won't say a darned thing about it.

-Amazon's presumed music player thing.

-The Android project at Google (by the way, some very smart PalmSource engineers just hired on there).

-I guess we should list Microsoft's Origami, although I have a very bad feeling about anything that crams a full PC into a tiny package. I'm trying to reserve judgment until we hear more later this week.

-Whatever Nintendo does next.

Any other nominees?


Anonymous asked:

>>didn't DoCoMo recently invest a lot of money in Access? Wouldn't it be expected that they'd have a lot of positives to say about a company that they partially own?

They invested more in Access after the PalmSource acquisition. So I'd say the investment and the quotes were both votes of confidence.

DoCoMo carries a lot of OS's, so I don't want to oversell the importance of their endorsement. But they can literally order a handset company to use an OS. Don't underestimate the importance of their support.


>>How long do you think Access has before it's too late to release a new mobile OS?

An almost infinite amount of time. The market's not consolidating. They'll lose a lot of the Palm OS developers if they don't hustle, but that doesn't make the OS nonviable because the handset vendors don't really care how many apps an OS has. If they did, no one would be selling Microsoft Smartphone.


>>And what if Nokia's Maemo platform or a new inexpensive Linux platform steals Access Linux Platform's thunder in 2006?

No question, that would be a problem. TrollTech would love to take on that role. I think that's why Access is trying to line up a bunch of component companies far in advance.

Also, keep in mind that Access is already selling a browser to a huge array of handset companies, and can use those relationships to push the OS.


>>How much profit are they [Palm] making each year?

Run rate is about $100m a year profit, and their stock just hit its 52-week high. They're not invulnerable, but their performance is pretty good. And remember we haven't seen the effect of the Windows Mobile Treo yet.


>>And how much money does Access have? I thought the buyout of PalmSource stretched Access pretty thin.

DoCoMo just gave Access a bunch of money, and besides PalmSource was almost at breakeven even before they laid off me and 2/3 of the other VPs. No question Access has enough money to finish the process. Easily.


>>Does Palm have the manpower to hack Garnet for high speed CDMA and GSM smartphones, hack Windows Mobile, support Garnet and Windows Mobile and also develop and support Access Linux Platform smartphones?

Don't forget evolving the LifeDrive and developing Jeff's special project. That's the right question, and I don't know the answer.


David wrote:

>>I'll say it a bit more bluntly perhaps than you...

Thanks for the comment, David. For those who don't know, he's former director of product marketing at PalmSource, and a very smart guy.

kaafree said...

I found couple of articles in Computing unplagged which I have found pretty interesting. One is here, second one - some story from Sharp Zaurus Developer.

Anonymous said...

You know Mike, I wonder if Access has considered what they are really doing to developers. I'm a pretty strong Palm OS developer. I used to write only for Palm. About 3 years ago I started porting to Windows Mobile/Pocket PC. Then a year ago I released the first version for Windows Mobile/Smartphone.

So I'm now working on a new product. Do you think I'm starting with a Palm OS version again?

The truth is that I'm not even thinking about developing for Palm OS until I see what happens. I don't want to waste months of time working on a platform that may very well start to dwindle next year. I'll wait and see what happens with ALP before starting anything for Palm.

So instead, I bought my first Symbian phone. I have their SDK. And I'm writing for it. Reluctantly.

You know what the really sad thing is? One of my products was the winner of PalmSource's Best Overall Powered Up Awards. I sit across the room from the large marble-and-glass statue that you gave to me. Do you think that I really want to start writing Symbian code?

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Mace said...

I'm really reluctant to ever remove a comment. My policy is that I'll allow anything that isn't abusive or obscene, and that adds value to the conversation. When people post things that are no more than insults aimed at others who have posted comments, it stifles the conversation. I don't want that to happen.

Catherine E. White said...

One of the things we did as part of our quote analysis, was to look at the press releases for the companies providing the quotes. Most didn't think it worth issuing their own press releases, or explaining to their own customers what it was about from their own sites.

So, we felt like the press release from Access was somewhat weakened by that. It could be interpreted as if the quoted companies had said, "sure, we'll give you a quote." I was left with the impression that their support might not amount to much more than that, and that we would need to wait to see what the level of commitment was from device manufacturers and the carriers. This is one time that secrecy among the manufacturers could end up being really self sabotaging. If they have an interest to release ALP devices some day, my feeling is that they should say so, in a general way, so that consumers and developers will feel comfortable that they might have those choices and options in the future. It might be enough for them to say that they are evaluating it. At least that would indicate that they aren't dismissing it out of hand. (pun intended.)

Another thought that occurred to us as we were discussing the likelihood of ALP being adopted is that the cost of devices is a big factor for the carriers, who often subsidize the cost of the handsets. Having the OS and phone driver support on one chip, as it is for Symbian is an advantage in keeping the cost of the smartphones down so that the increase in revenues from increased ARPU from data traffic is actually realized on the bottom line.

Focusing too closely on what Palm does makes it seem like the classic media story with a two way horse race at Palm between Windows Mobile vs. Palm OS/ALP. Thinking like a phone carrier, I have to admit that the one chip Symbian approach has some appeal. Consumers and Developer's like us have different criterion for what we want from a mobile OS. We want an OS that facilitates interesting applications, supports new business models, and enables new capabilities for consumers. Is that desirable to a phone company? I want to think that they would see the advantages of those things, but my fear is that they might only be a secondary consideration given the business problems that they want to solve.

Perry L said...

Knowing how conservative telcos are with anything new - especially the ones in NA - I think late 2007 product would transalte into mid-late 2008 availablity.

So really, two years from now WM and Symbian will have a stranglehold. I expect future Treos will be WM only.

Michael Mace said...

Kaafree wrote:

>I found couple of articles in Computing unplagged

Thanks! They're interesting. Regarding the article about lessons learned from Sharp Zaurus, I think the points about their developer program were quite valid. When I tested several Zaurus devices, I felt they were also annoyingly slow at some tasks, and the user interface wasn't exactly elegant (to me it felt like a PC UI).

For many years Sharp has made some of the coolest computing hardware devices in the world, but I think its software doesn't have the same creativity and elegance.

(For example, the Sharp x68000 PC was one of the coolest computers ever, many years ahead of the competition -- auto-eject floppy drives, cable connectors in the front of the case, a spring-loaded carrying handle...but it ran proprietary software and was never more than a niche alternative in Japan.)


Anonymous wrote:

>I wonder if Access has considered what they are really doing to developers....Do you think that I really want to start writing Symbian code?

Thanks for the comment, and I'm sure you don't.

There are still a good number of people at Access who worked in the developer relations team at PalmSource and understand how to take care of developers. I don't know if they're being listened to (maybe they are, I honestly don't know).

Developers generally have one of two motivations for developing for a platform: 1. They think they can get rich writing programs for it, or 2. They can easily do something very cool with it.

Right now, Access isn't really making either case to developers.

To be fair, they don't have much to market right now -- they're making a big transition, and may not want to over-hype it too far in advance. But that lets the current base of Palm OS developers drift away. I can't identify any lead spokesperson at Access who's responsible for explaining their business strategy and giving the developers confidence in the direction of the platform. A Guy Kawasaki type of person would be very helpful right about now.


Catherine wrote (regarding the quotes):

>Most didn't think it worth issuing their own press releases

The usual practice is that you don't issue your own press release unless you've made a formal signed agreement with somebody.


>>It could be interpreted as if the quoted companies had said, "sure, we'll give you a quote."

For publicly traded companies, there usually needs to be a little more of a commitment than that. Generally the companies want their lawyers to review the quote, for example, which means you have to get a manager's approval and so on. So you're right that there's no formal commitment, but the quote isn't a complete throwaway in most cases.


>>secrecy among the manufacturers could end up being really self sabotaging. If they have an interest to release ALP devices some day, my feeling is that they should say so, in a general way, so that consumers and developers will feel comfortable

I agree, but I think the manufacturers don't always see things that way. They're afraid of sabotaging current sales by talking about something in the future. And they tend to view reassuring developers as the OS company's responsibility.

I think it's likely that some device companies are actively evaluating Access Linux (given that DoCoMo and Telefonica expressed support, they would be fools not to). Somebody close to PalmSource told me I over-analyzed the quotes, which implies that more is going on behind the scenes. But I wouldn't be surprised if the hardware companies want to wait until the OS is much closer to shipment before they make any commitments.


>>We want an OS that facilitates interesting applications, supports new business models, and enables new capabilities for consumers. Is that desirable to a phone company?

Every operator is different, but in my experience most of them want those things in general but with a lot of caveats. They generally want the applications to be limited in number and to come through them, so they can prevent security problems and can capture as much revenue from them as possible. They want new business models that give them more revenue. And they want new capabilities that will help them get new revenue streams.

The whole idea of sharing access to the customer, which is central to the OS/developer paradigm, is foreign to them. They generally want to be the user's only contact point, so they keep control. (And so they can reduce their support costs; they believe that they, rather than the app developer, will get most of the support calls even if they problem is with a third party app.)

These rules are applied less restrictively to low-volume, high-price smart phones. The lower the cost of the phones, the more control they tend to want (because that's the core of their business).


Perry wrote:

>Knowing how conservative telcos are with anything new - especially the ones in NA - I think late 2007 product would transalte into mid-late 2008 availablity.

Good point. Usually the time lag is up to six months. I think the exception is if you give them an exclusive and convince them it'll be a hot phone. Then they rush their acceptance testing (the main source of delays) and sometimes waive some of their feature requirements. I've seen both Sprint and Cingular do this in the past to get exclusive access to a new phone.

fiat lux said...

>But I'm very worried about the situation with Palm and the US operators.

Some of us noticed this scenario quite a while back. PalmOS PDAs at the US consumer market has known them are dying. It's sad for members of the old Palm Economy (remember when that phrase actually meant something?) but it's happening. The only question is what device(s), if any, will arise from the ashes.

Michael Mace said...

Hi, 'Fiat!' Thanks for the comment.

>>PalmOS PDAs at the US consumer market has known them are dying.

Not just Palm OS, but the whole PDA category is continuing to wither away. Pocket PC's almost as bad off.

I had lunch today with a former PalmSource employee, an extremely smart guy, who feels the whole thing is cyclical -- he says we're waiting for the next major mobile device concept to emerge.

One thing I'm pretty sure of, it's not going to be Origami.

Anonymous said...

Nice article and comments.
This press release from Access was the final nail in the coffin for Palm OS. As I've been saying on my blog for about a year, Palm OS is dead. I've been a user since the first device and a bit of a fan. But there have been too many wrong decisions to recover. Palm, can not stand around and wait for the Palm OS story to be worked out. They needed to move to a viable strategy to survive. That strategy is Windows Mobile. While it may not be their intent to leave Palm OS behind, they will and IMO, they have to. There is simply too much duplicated work they have to do with the existing Palm OS. They get all that for free on Windows Mobile. Of course the challenge is how to differentiate themselves from the other Windows Mobile licencees. They are on the right track, they need to continue add software to their core solution. It would be a great idea and strategy to start acquiring specific software companies so that popular and useful software titles are delivered through the Treo.

As for ALP, this effort seems to be looking east (metaphorically speaking). I don't see how this effort will be successful in the US or Europe. Japan might work but it seems that the large undeveloped markets are the target for whatever they end up building. The market is indeed being reduced to two standard OSes (Windows Mobile and Symbian). I'm sure some carriers will see some value in delivering another solution but in two years, this will be a hard door to break open once the major carriers have seen success with businesses using Windows Mobile.

Here's a good starting point for my thoughts:
http://www.slamblog.com/2006/03/slamblog_guide_.html

Anonymous said...

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