Is it safe to buy Palm or RIM devices?

The question was familiar, but it was the first time a reporter had asked me to go on the record since I left PalmSource. She said, "Given all the uncertainty about Palm, should people avoid buying their products?"

I asked what uncertainty she meant.

"You know, all the uncertainty about what they're doing with Microsoft. It's the same as RIM Blackberry, where people say you shouldn't buy because of the uncertainty about their patents."

I'm glad to say that my answer today is the same as it was back when I worked at PalmSource: buy what you need and don't worry about what people say.

If you look for uncertainty, you can find it for any mobile product on the market. Symbian's losing licensees. Microsoft has lost licensees (and missed a few shipment deadlines). Both platforms are extremely dependant on single hardware companies -- Nokia for Symbian and HTC for Microsoft. And for every device there's always a new model or a new software version about to obsolete the current stuff.

Obviously, if a company's on the verge of bankruptcy, you should be careful. But Palm is profitable, and they know how loyal Palm OS users are. They have a huge financial incentive to keep serving those users as long as the users want to buy.

RIM is a slightly more intimidating issue because you never know what the government might do. One week RIM's on the brink of ruin, the next week the patent office is about to destroy the whole case against them. This sort of unpredictability doesn't encourage innovation and investment, which I thought was the whole point of the patent system. What we have now seems more like playing the lottery. But I don't think it's going to lead to a shutdown of RIM's system. If NTP destroys RIM's business, there won't be anything left to squeeze money out of. I think what you're seeing now is brinksmanship negotiation from both sides. It's entertaining, but not something you should base a purchase decision on.

Yes, you can get yourself worked up about risk on a particular platform if you want to. But that level of risk is miniscule compared to the near certainty you'll be disappointed if you buy a "safe" product that doesn't really do what you need. There's much more diversity in the mobile market than there is in PCs. One brand often isn't a good substitute for another, and a product that's appealing to one person may be repulsive to another.

If you're an individual user, you could easily talk yourself into buying a device you'll hate every day. If you're an IT manager specifying products for your company, you could easily end up deploying products that employees won't use.

The safest thing to do is ignore the commentators and buy the device that best meets your needs.


Anonymous said...

wjexvNonsense, Michael. Palm is pretty much dead and PalmOS is about to morph into NetFrontLinux - an OS specifically designed for cellphones. Why do you think DoCoMo is buying up so much of Access?

Palm pretty much sealed their fate when they spun off - and then lost control of - PalmOS. Palm is too small and slow to cut it as just another company selling hardware running Microsoft's OS.


Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comment, David.

>>Why do you think DoCoMo is buying up so much of Access?

A good question. Check my post on DoCoMo's investment in Access.

>>Palm is too small and slow to cut it as just another company selling hardware running Microsoft's OS.

I don't think Palm intends to sell only devices running Windows Mobile, and even if they did I wouldn't count them out. Speed of innovation is one issue, and quality of innovation is another. In mobile devices, the second often outsells the first, and I personally think that's where Palm tries to focus.

I think a lot depends on how much freedom Microsoft gives them to change things, and how well they can execute. We'll see...

I agree that their business has some risk in the long term, but as I said I think there are long-term risks associated with every smart mobile product out there.

I don't see *any* signs of an imminent collapse at Palm, and considering the relatively short replacement time of most mobile devices (2-3 years on average for a lot of users) I think it would be unwise to avoid a product you like because you're afraid it might be dead in five years.

I'll also be interested to see what happens with the "secret hardware device" project that Jeff Hawkins is supposedly driving. I know a number of very good Palm and PalmSource people who went to work on that. They won't tell me a darn thing about what they're doing. Jerks. Like they thought I'd post about it on my blog about it or something. ;-)