It wasn't so long ago that Palm was one of the biggest companies in the smartphone and PDA market. When the traditional PDA died out as one of the hot gadgets to have, Palm took a few blows to the head. When other companies jumped into the smartphone market with products superior to Palm, it took even more blows.
Today Palm is seeing its profits shrink and its products lose popularity to newcomers like the Apple iPhone, which now holds over 16% of the smartphone market. Palm hasn’t given up and has announced that its big news for CES 2009 will be a new operating system it calls Nova.
To turn its ailing business around, Palm reached out to Apple veteran Jon Rubinstein in mid-2007. BusinessWeek reports that after talking with Palm executives Rubinstein agreed to become Palm's executive chairman in charge of product development.
Under his watch, Palm began to grow its engineering prowess and work on a next generation operating system that in Palm's words aimed for the fat middle of the smartphone market. Palm says that its goal with Nova is to bridge the gap between devices like the BlackBerry that are aimed at providing communication in the form of email, voice and text messaging for business users with the entertainment oriented features of the Apple iPhone.
Palm feels that there is a significant market that has needs in between what the BlackBerry and iPhone can offer that isn’t being addressed and it plans to meet the needs of these users with Nova. Palm's Ed Colligan told BusinessWeek, "People's work and personal lives are melding."
Little is known about Nova at this point with the veil of secrecy that Palm was wrapped around its operating system. What is known is that Palm doesn’t want to get into a slugging match with either BlackBerry or Apple with Nova. What Palm wants is an operating system that is flexible and supports a wide range of digital consumers.
Palm feels that the closest device to meeting the needs of the group of users Nova targets is the iPhone, but the glut of features the iPhone offers means batteries are depleted quickly. Some inside Palm believe that Nova-powered devices could ultimately grab the company 2% of the smartphone market, a number that Palm would be happy with. Palm's last new handset, the Treo Pro, failed to make a real impact on the market.
Some sources say that Nova is an attempt to make an operating system that is smarter about you. An example of what Nova may be able to do, according to these sources, is look at your calendar and see you have a trip planned. Then the day before the trip automatically send you a message with things like weather conditions at the location.
Many wonder if the smartphone market will welcome an additional operating system to the fold. Developers are already running full-tilt to produce Apps for the iPhone along with programs for the BlackBerry and Google's new Android devices.
One developer named Jeff Holden with Pelago, a company building applications for the iPhone told BusinessWeek, "If they can't show me a large, active audience, I'm not going to be interested. At this point in the game, you're toast unless you have something completely unbelievable."
The smartphone world will have to wait until CES in a few weeks to see if Nova is unbelievable or if Palm will quickly disappear under the force of better competition.