Can Nova Save Palm?

By  |  Monday, December 15, 2008 at 10:53 am

mancallednovaBusinessWeek’s Peter Burrows has a good piece up on Palm’s upcoming next-generation phone operating system, which is code-named “Nova.” The story doesn’t give away any real details on the new platform, other than to confirm that it’ll be unveiled at CES next month. (I’ll be at the event  and will liveblog it here at Technologizer.) But as recent articles about Palm go, it’s surprisingly upbeat, pointing out that Palm product chief Jon Rubenstein was a key player at Apple during that company’s unexpected comeback, and that he’s hired lots of smart folks to pump life back into Palm’s ailing, aging product lineup.

Palm may have gone through extended, public agony trying to come up with an all-new OS for its phones, but it’s effectively clamped down on leaks about its look, feel, and functionality. That sets up its CES launch for one of two likely scenarios: a consensus that Nova is surprisingly good and possibly worth the interminable wait, or one that it’s a disappointing laggard that won’t revive Palm’s fortunes. I’m not betting on any scenario, but as a longtime Palm customer who still feels a twinge of guilt for having abandoned its products, I’d certainly be tickled if reality was closer to the first one.

The BusinessWeek piece has Palm saying that it sees an opportunity for Nova to hit a sweet spot that’s somewhere smack in the middle between the iPhone’s consumer focus and BlackBerry’s business orientation. I hope that strategy pays off, but it’s only stating the obvious to note that Apple is pushing iPhone hard in a corporate direction and RIM is trying to reinvent the BlackBerry as a multimedia-savvy consumer device. If those two companies succeed, it’s not entirely clear that there will be a sweet spot between their two platforms for Nova to occupy.

Palm’s fortunes depend in part on a question which even the smartest among us can only guess at the answer to: Is there room for another phone operating system? Lately, I’ve been comparing the current state of cell phones to where the PC was in 1983–by which I mean that it’s still very, very early, and things are only starting to get interesting. But 1983 was also when the rise of the IBM PC and its clones left MS-DOS crushing every other microcomputer OS in existence. When the Mac arrived in 1984, it turned out that there was room for one more major OS. But only one more. (Let’s skip the question of whether Linux eventually became a major desktop OS or not for the moment; even if it did, it didn’t happen until years later.)

With smartphones, all we know for sure right now is that Apple’s iPhone OS is the major platform–not yet in terms of installed base, but definitely in terms of technical sophistication and potential. Google’s Android is also full of possibilities, but it’s not clear yet where it’ll overtake the iPhone, be a strong number two…or turn out to be a disappointment.

Palm, I’m sure, would be happy with a marketshare that’s a fraction of what Apple and RIM have, as long as it’s enough to restore the Palm platform to viability and Palm, Inc. to financial health. Said marketshare wouldn’t have to be all that big, probably. But I still don’t have a clue whether Nova will be an engine that can get Palm there. More details  and thoughts at 11am on January 8th, which is when Palm’s CES event starts…



6 Comments For This Post

  1. Dave Zatz Says:

    Is it a clamp down on leaks or are the new hardware and software products so far off that no one’s seem them yet? I’d like to see Palm succeed… they pretty much invented the PDA market market and both the Palm V and Treo lines are iconic. Here’s to hoping they can do it one more time. (They could have already hit it that third time with the Folio – but they gave up on it right about when the netbook craze started. I really like it, just not the market positioning they were going with.)

  2. Anne B. Says:

    I am also rooting for Palm. I love my Zire 31, I love the Palm desktop. It does pretty much everything I want an organizer to do, including keeping my perpetual grocery list and my database of books I want to read. I have my Bible on it, with a really great search function. What makes me crazy – and why I’m starting to drop it – is that it plays so poorly with other apps. It’s a bear getting Palm into my Gmail address book or even my Motorola cell phone address book. And forget working with gCal or anything else. It imports and exports into Toodledo, but doesn’t sync. Yes, I can sync to Outlook, but I don’t like Outlook.

  3. mrspin Says:

    I’m rooting for Palm too, and by looks of things they still have a lot of fans. If they produce something decent then they can cash in that good feeling. They do, however, face many, many challenges… Here’s more of my thoughts.

  4. Dave Barnes Says:

    Palm is doomed.
    Part of the success of the iPhone is the add-on app market.
    Developers do not want to write code for multiple platforms. And, they certainly won’t write for a phone/device with a very low market share. Therefore, there won’t be any apps for the new Palm OS.

  5. Daniel Ionescu Says:


    I’ve been a Palm user as well (for a short while admittedly) but honestly, I think Palm would be better off with Android – ditching WinMo and putting their efforts into making better hardware. Their phones are still chunky and rock ancient cameras and software… And – do they really have the resources to build a better OS than Google?

    Anyway, in my opinion, Rubinstein is just trying to creeate some buzz around the January CES launch. My story is here:

  6. darwiniandude Says:

    I thought Apple invented (or first to market) the PDA with Newton. Wasn’t Palm done by ex apple employees years later?

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