Palm OS on Nokia: Strategy or tactic?

I was stunned today when I saw the press release from Access Company saying that they're giving away a beta version of the Garnet emulator for Nokia's N-series Linux tablets (link).

The Garnet emulator lets you to run most Palm OS applications. So in layman's terms, Access is giving away Palm OS for use on any N-series tablet.

I hadn't previously heard any hints from Access about offering Garnet for other platforms. I thought it was only supposed to be available with Access Linux.

I got excited by the announcement, figuring maybe Access had realized that the real innovation is going to come in the applications layer, not the core OS plumbing. I imagined all sorts of scenarios for what they might be planning:

--How about porting Garnet to some other Linux implementations. Hmm, what comes to mind? Maybe Google's Android? Access would need cooperation from Google in order for the emulator to talk directly to Linux. Would Google help with that?

--There is a need in the market for a mobile application environment that's truly "write once, run anywhere." Might Access intend to use Garnet to compete with Java? That would involve porting Garnet to operating systems other than Linux. How about Windows Mobile and Symbian? How about the iPhone?

--There are several ways Access could make money from this:

  • Give away the emulator in beta but charge for the final version.
  • Give away the emulator on N-series but charge for it on other platforms.
  • Give away the emulator everywhere and make money by selling support software and bundling a software store and taking a cut of the purchase fees for apps (a derivative of the iMode and Acrobat models).

Intrigued by the possibilities, I talked to folks at Access. They shot down most of my speculation. As it was explained to me, this is a tactical move. By porting Garnet to the Nokia tablets they can get some testing for the emulator, and also give a "more interesting ongoing proposition for current developers." (It says something about the momentum for your OS when you feel the installed base of Nokia Linux tablets is an attractive developer target, but I guess you take what you can get.)

Access might try to put the emulator on other standard Linux implementations, but they're very busy working on software for licensees they can't talk about yet, and don't have time to port to anything else, including Android.

That's a shame. In my opinion, there's more of a market for Garnet on other platforms than there is for a Linux phone OS now that Google is giving one away.

But Access believes Google's nonstandard approach to Java and Linux is not going to go down well with the mobile development community. They said Android faces big challenges and a likely backlash.

Okay. I guess only time will tell whether that's justified self-confidence or denial of reality.

Meanwhile, I'll go play with Garnet on my Nokia tablet and wonder about what might have been.


Sebastian said...

You obviously don't even understand the simple bits about Google's Android platform. It's open source - so everybody can develop an emulator without the help of Google.

The only thing they would need the help from Google is if they want to get their Palm OS-platform pre-installed on Android-smartphones - which wouldn't make much sense for Google to do. (Why install another abstraction layer that provides no real advantage over the existing UI libraries or rather has a number of disadvantages, as it doesn't provide the same UI experience (and likely won't, if it plans to support other platforms, too).)

Stuart said...

I wouldn't place too high a value on Garnet itself. Garnet's day has come and gone, and both Palm and Access are trying to replace it with something more modern. I think that Access is giving away the Garnet VM away for free because there is not enough value in it to charge for it. That's not where they're planning to make their money.

Instead, I believe that this may simply be the first visible sign of an ongoing partnership between Access and Nokia.

As a developer, I've installed and poked around in the SDKs for both the Nokia Internet Tablets (Maemo) and the Access Linux Platform. They are remarkably similar. They are both Linux-based, using GTK+ for the UI and SQLite for database support. I believe that it would be relatively little work to port ALP to Maemo or vice versa.

It's clear what Nokia has to offer Access. Nokia is a handset manufacturer, and ALP desperately needs a handset manufacturer.

If you think of Nokia as a Symbian-based (smart)phone company, then it's not clear what Nokia has to gain from Access. But if you believe that Nokia is serious about developing their Maemo platform into a consumer product line of some sort, then Access has a lot to offer:

- They have the PIM applications that Maemo is missing.

- They have the "Hiker" application framework which manages application installation, launching and security, and also reduces application launch times.

- They have a more refined developer toolchain built around Eclipse.

I also noticed this quote on

"The ability to run ACCESS' Garnet VM on a Linux-based platform demonstrates the growing importance of open source mobile operating systems," said Ari Virtanen, VP of Convergence Products at Nokia.

That says to me that the release of the Garnet VM was not a unilateral act of Access, but was planned and coordinated with Nokia.

Olivier said...

This is Access's version of "MagicCap for Windows". Anyone remembers MagicCap for Windows ?

Let's hope Access now moves on and start working on the future of ALP, not its past.

Michael Mace said...

Sebastian, what I was speculating about is that I think they'd need Google's cooperation (at least business approval if not technical help) in order to create an emulator that people could download and install onto their Android devices. The emulator would need to be able to talk to Linux directly, and to get access to the user's PIM data.

Would Google support that? I don't know, how open is the platform really?

It's all just random speculation anyway, since that's apparently not Access's direction.

Anonymous said...

Or perhaps, with no device manufacturers or carriers showing an interest in Access's OS, this is an act of desperation?

Anonymous said...

this is unrelated; so I am just posting it on the most recent article.

i was recently having a conversation with friends about using interent on there mobile phones. no one was doing anything other than SMS and email despite that they had recent model high end phones. one of the main concerns was pricing. one was a fear of these thousand dollar phone bills that you hear about from time to time. the other was they do not want pay a subscribtion fee for something they may or may not find usefull.

that got me thinking that what is needed if the operators are really looking for widespread adoptation is the following: a progressive pricing structure with a cap. maybe something like $1/MB capped at a maximum charge of $30 per month. if you use nothing you pay nothing and you never pay over $30. i know that this does not give the operators the guarented monthly income they would like; but it would get people to try things out without fear of huge phone bills. no one is going to keep paying a fixed monthly charge if they are not using the features regularly. also people are going to be scared to try things if they believe it could get out of control.

another thing I have been noticing is that society(at least in the US) pretty much seems to see it as fact that we will soon have unlimited free nationwide WiFi(or WiMAX) and everyone will cancel their DSL and cable modem lines. following the industry I certainly get a different perception. but perhaps it is time for the telecos to wake up to what customers really want and deliver before some other technology(possibly municaply funded) puts them out of bussiness.

Anonymous said...

Interesting the points of view here. I use my Treo 755p as a mobile computer for my mobile office. I have bluetooth keyboard for typing notes at meeting. I have redundant word processing, database processing and reporting, spreadsheets, etc. I didn't get it to take pictures, play songs or attachments, etc.

Oddly, web browsing, email, and sms messaging were benefits that allowed me to effectively communicate to my team: subordinates and superiors alike, It allowed me to file my reports without paper. I also wanted to play mp3 files in my car and listen to internet radio.

Ironically, the things least missed are photos of any quality, listening to music, watching video, adding ringtones, or browsing webpages deftly.

The new devices boast processors that offer speeds making my Palm device seem like a crude calculator. Yet I haven't switched because there simply aren't too many truly useful applications for the platform when you take the total number of apps vs the one that have a practical use. With the Palm I can easily make my own apps right on the device in C or BASIC.

A database app I used since my Palm IIIxe allows me to make applets, quickly accumulate key information faster than scribbling notes, and generate reports that make sense of it all.

There are a handful of office type apps. One particular suite which initially was ubiquitous with Palm early and a competitor's suite are now available. I can finally get a keyboard with the EVO.

I will port eventually. Either because the rest of the apps I need will be there or I have too. My wife has the Pre which gives me an out if I can't get to Android before the Treo dies.

For me this was never about shiny slick device with eye candy, it has been about functionality. The Pre and the iPhone offer that and the Blackberry has certainly come along way.

But the superior more powerful device is the EVO. One of the advantages of open source is unbridled innovation and the oft downfall is focus.

iPhone is out as I like Sprint and can't beat the price. Not to mention that Big Brother tells me what I can and can't do with the device. Although there is an underground that constantly is grappling with Apple to open the device, the ongoing battle is getting difficult to follow. Apple locks it down, they figure away around that, then Apple locks it down again, only to be undone once more by a community that loves the device but hates what they see as tyranny.

I am less hesitant to buy the Pre now that HP has bought them but will never forget the resets of my Treo 650 and the lack of support Palm gave its faithful users and developers. I have strong hope that HP won't neglect the old OS altogether. Supporting extinct devices is an unreasonable request, just don't forget the only reason I would buy at this moment is because I could do tomorrow what I continue to do on my Treo today. There still isn't a decent office suite for WebOS!

I read somewhere someone got POSE for Linux running on an Android device. The post was quite detailed, but I haven't been able to find it again.

Try figuring out which version of Linux to install the first time. It is bewildering! Because anyone can and often does create a new version, often once and with zero updates. Or limited updates at best. Kinda like they just lost interest.

Recent forum posts indicate Google is "defragmenting" is developer tools and parts of the user interface no one bothered to fix; even though it was "out there" to do.

Most folks these day would not buy a vehicle without any cup holders because it is a use they see as practical. There are plenty of safety reasons not to include them, but tell that to the person who leaves the house half awake and feels they require the caffeine on the way to work to be bright and bushy tailed.

I'll get off my soap box.


Michael Mace said...

Wow, excellent comment, Dave. Thanks for posting it.