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What's Up With Palm?

I woke up this morning to find my Treo 650 smartphone in a catatonic state. Somehow, it had locked up in a way that caused it to drain its battery overnight--but it took me a couple of attempted resets (a chore I have grown a little too familiar with lately) to realize the situation.

It's now charging up and should be back in action soon enough. If only I could count on the Treo's developer to fix whatever flaws caused this lockup.

This is a good week to take stock of Palm's position. It's been about four and a half years since its last new handheld operating-system software reached stores; in that time, Microsoft has shipped multiple updates to its Windows Mobile software, with version 6 arriving next week.

What's Palm done to keep itself busy? Let's see: After spinning off its software development into a separate company called PalmSource, it renamed itself PalmOne, watched the market for non-Palm handhelds running the Palm OS dry up (eliminating the entire rationale for having a separate company developing this software), and proceeded to blow almost $180 million on buying back the Palm name and renewing a license to its own operating system when it could have bought PalmSource outright for just another $145 million. Instead, it let another company snap up PalmSource and gain control of the software it created.

The result: Palm users have an operating system that isn't getting any younger, coupled to increasingly antiquated synchronization and desktop software--with the only hope for improvement something called the Access Linux Platform, a so-far vaporous effort from the new owners of PalmSource. Palm hasn't even been able to issue more than minor updates to the Treo smartphone since the 650 debuted in 2004.

How could Palm have let this happen? It dominated the handheld industry, then wasted just about every opportunity it had. Just think about how far Palm has fallen, compared to how Apple -- a company a lot of people once thought even more rudderless than Palm seems today -- has risen since the return of Steve Jobs 10 years ago this week.

It's hard not to think that Palm is the single most mismanaged company in the gadget business.

(Don't take my word for it. Palm developers are fed up too. )

Do you own a Palm OS device? Do you think Palm can regain a sense of direction, or will you look elsewhere the next time you're shopping for an organizer or smartphone? Let me know in the comments.

By Rob Pegoraro  |  February 8, 2007; 11:43 AM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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I am a long time Palm, Clie and now Treo user. My Treo 650 is 2 years old today. However, looking forward, I see Styletap as the, literally, Palm killer app. Mobile 6, Styletap to run all my Palm apps and one of the dozen of options for hardware make it difficult to see much of future for Palm unless they pull an iPhone (must have design - not that I'm interested) out their hat.

Posted by: David G | February 8, 2007 4:00 PM | Report abuse

I have a Palm Pilot that I'm pretty fond of. I'm a Mac user and Palm fits well into my Microsoft-avoiding modus operandi. I hate to see the PDA market being left to PocketPC, which strikes me as a bit bloated, and Blackberry, which has an annoying interface.

On the other hand, maybe the days of the dedicated PDA are over anyway; everything will be phones or mp3 players or both, and other PDA functions like address books and datebooks will be absorbed by the phones. I haven't tried the TREO, but Palm doesn't strike me as an attractive platform for a phone.

Posted by: Tony | February 8, 2007 6:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm a long-time Palm user. I was planning to replace my Palm VIIx and my old cellphone with a Treo sometime this year. Now, however, I'm going to wait until the end of the year and take a look at the Apple phone. From what I've read, it will suit my needs better.

Posted by: Kris | February 8, 2007 6:50 PM | Report abuse

I'm a long time Palm user and Treo 300, 600 and now 700p plus FirstDrive but I think it might be time to be moving on. I wanted more room than the 600 so desperately I bought the FirstDrive. I was one of the first to snap up the 700p and it does what the 600 probably should have done, that is, it doesn't crash at all, it doesn't lock up. It still needs an "adaptor" for blue tooth for its music/pod cast software. Plus I find myself spending an inordinate amount of time hooking up any of my three blue tooth devices to the treo. It remembers, it just doesn't want to use them.
I wouldn't mind considering watching select video on it. I most certainly do not want to pay for it on a monthly basis.
Perhaps I'll just return to a "simple" cell phone next time around.

Posted by: Claire | February 8, 2007 9:19 PM | Report abuse

I'm a developer who's some development for the Palm. It can't die soon enough. I suspect the reason there haven't been any updates is that the OS and the libraries are flagrantly baroque. Standard library functions that work, and are used, in exactly the same way on Linux, Windows, Mac and, for that matter, VMS, are both renamed and work differently on the Palm. There is no filesystem, everything is in a database. A brain dead database. I could go on and on...

Posted by: wiredog | February 9, 2007 8:18 AM | Report abuse


I'm embarrased to use a Palm! I'm the Acrobat User Group Leader for Washington DC and can't use Acrobat Reader on my Palm. That does not speak well for Palm.

Les Greenberg

Posted by: Les Greenberg | February 9, 2007 9:50 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of Palm, are there any alternatives to it for us Mac OS X users? I know the iPhone is coming out, but I just don't have that kind of money. What are the real alternatives to Palm (for just the PDA part). I am one of those users that has no use for a phone and PDA together. Thanks!

Posted by: Robert in Del Mar, CA | February 9, 2007 10:57 AM | Report abuse

Things are not as they seem on the surface with Palm. It's clear from recent actions (like successfully negotiating development rights to the Palm OS) and SEC filings (that talk about the "next generation" of the Palm OS depending on the success of aforementioned negotiation) that Palm does not consider the ACCESS Linux Platform to be the real successor to the Palm OS. Instead they seem to be hiring up lots of embedded Linux engineers and taking the development of the Palm OS back into their own hands. This work has been underway for at least 2 years, according to some analysts and insiders, and is expected to bear fruit with a new OS that Palm owns and brands this year.

Posted by: David Beers | February 9, 2007 12:51 PM | Report abuse

David - I sure hope you're right about Palm taking charge of its own software. At this point, I don't know that I trust PalmSource/Access to code their way out of a paper bag :)

Sure would help if somebody at Palm would spell out these plans at some point. Even in the bleak days of 1997, Apple's customers at least knew broad outlines of the company's plans for a modern operating system.

- Rob Pegoraro

Posted by: Rob Pegoraro | February 9, 2007 1:04 PM | Report abuse

I have a 700p with Verizon. The first one I had was slower than my previous 600. Got it replaced and now it resets itself on a regular basis. It also has a habit of not showing incoming calls, just a missed call or voicemail alert after the fact. This is the 3rd Palm I've owned and the last. Looking forward to the iPhone in June. Palm won't be around in 5 years.

Posted by: Joe in Princeton NJ | February 9, 2007 3:00 PM | Report abuse

having had a number of palm devices (from palm to the sony.clie), my best thought is that i should have kept my old newton... having said that, my nextbesthandheld device is the sharp3100 -- a wonderful linux-based handheld, with a thumb-type keyboard i can still use. it even runs openoffice (though ...s..l..o..w..l..y)
not perfect, but better than my palm(s).

Posted by: gfb1 | February 9, 2007 3:09 PM | Report abuse

Addendum to agree with Rob that Palm management doesn't know what they are doing. You would think that they Treos would come with software to view image files/PDFs and play sound files/ring tones but NOOOOOOO, you have to buy as add-ons. And a web brower that isn't a pain to use. When I saw the demo of the Safari brower on the iPhone, that alone is a reason to switch.

Posted by: Joe in Princeton NJ | February 9, 2007 3:14 PM | Report abuse

I have been a loyal Palm user, and am on my 3d generation Treo. It is a frustrating experience. The only time I seem to care about my OS (on any machine) is when I am becoming aware of its limitations, and that is certainly the situation with the Palm OS these days. It is weird, though - here in LA, I am seeing more and more Treos all the time, as people seem to be selecting them instead of the Blackberry. Is this making Palm indifferent to the fact that they have a bad OS and an increasingly antiquated system? As Rob says, it would be nice for the company to throw a line to the loyal users, because the iPhone is making me drool.
Also, of course, the Apple analogy is interesting. Remember when Apple flirted with licensing the Mac OS to other hardware manufacturers, and there was talk of splitting the company a la Palm/PalmSource? The fluidity of these markets (Motorola up, Motorola down, Nokia up, Nokia down, etc.) means that there is still a chance for them to pull it together - which would be a happy thing.

Posted by: Tom in LA | February 9, 2007 3:15 PM | Report abuse

I've never used a Palm, but the description of how they've wasted their opportunities reminds me of Corel Corporation from 10 or so years ago.

Posted by: Cosmo | February 9, 2007 3:48 PM | Report abuse

From what I hear, the Treo 680 is really the most successful Palm OS based device that's come out of them recently. I have a TX, mostly because I want the PIM functions, ability to edit Word and Excel on the go, and don't want a phone the size of a brick (I can get internet through my phone using Bluetooth anyway, why would I want a device as cumbersome as a smartphone anyway?). For most users, I suspect that the age of Palm's OS is not a huge issue - what's important is useability, and Palm still has that. It's the reason I rejected Windows Mobile out of hand, and as I don't want a smartphone a Blackberry is out of the question.
The real issue seems to be that as functions get more complex, bugs keep growing in Palm's devices, that and a lack of multitasking (every time I try to play mp3s and do something else on my TX, it skips like crazy). That probably requires some sort of rewrite, but I'm not convinced that it's necessarily as big a job as most people seem to assume it will be.
After that, it's just skinning the OS so it looks more modern, updating things like the web browser, and most importantly marketing. That Palm's OS is something that I can still enjoy when it's 4 years old is pretty impressive, IMO.

Posted by: Mmaestro | February 9, 2007 4:26 PM | Report abuse

I've been a loyal Palm user from the get-go and now have a Treo 650. My experience with Palm is analogous to my experiences with Dell: once a company on the bleeding edge which rested on its initial success and ignored customers. Both used to have excellent customer service. Palm was first to abandon us, and Dell followed, for different reasons of course, but almost surely based on the arrogance of making money over providing something of quality. I left PCs for Apple several years ago; I'll not return. I will leave the Treo for the iPhone as soon as possible, and again, will not look back. Service to the customer defines success.

Posted by: Stubbs | February 10, 2007 2:12 AM | Report abuse

We have "simple" Palm T3's that are not phones, mp3 players, gps, etc. Mostly for our calendar, contacts and - importantly - games. These $200 dogs have batteries that last an hour - TOPS. One is dead; other dying. I will NOT buy Palm again for all of the reasons written here. Suggestions urgently needed and welcomed. TIA

Posted by: Ed Diephaus | February 10, 2007 11:48 AM | Report abuse

I had been a Palm user for a number of years. I used my device for basically keeping my address book with me (it synced and updateded with my Macs at home and in my office), to use as a calculator, to play some mp3 files, to take and display photos (it had a camera), play some games and most importantly to read ebooks. I own several hundred ebooks. The thing it didn't have was an fm radio. As I am a big news junkie and like to listen to NPR, this was a major feature loss. The Zire finally died and I am waitng for the new Mac iPhone. However, from what I can tell from various reports I've read, the iPhone will not have an fm radio either or, most importantly, an ebook reader. I really do not like or want to be forced to use MicroSoft products, but without these two features, I fear I will have to consider a 3rd party device that will most likely run Windows Mobile. I cringe at the prospect. And as a side note, I do not want or like to listed to audio books. This is NOT a substitute for the benefits of reading.

Posted by: John Henson | February 10, 2007 11:58 AM | Report abuse

I am a Palm Developer creating well known games such as WordPop. Palm is showing its but continues to succeed because the device is easy to use. I also develop for Windows Mobile which has a much higher learning curve. The Treo line continues to be successful because mainstream users buy it as a phone first. If the average user compares their Nokia to a Palm the Palm still wins most of the time. Plus the Palm's keyboard is great for text messaging which is very popular.

Posted by: Todd Sherman | February 10, 2007 12:43 PM | Report abuse

I have been a Treo 650 user since it was intro'd in 2004. I have a desire for a new OS that would bring additional features, faster processing and faster internet access and certainly want more user available internal memory, not to mention multitasking. Having said that, I get tremendous use out of my 650. Email,PIM, Web browsing, News Alerts,Audible Books (including auto downloading of the Wall Street Journal, off air before I wake). I also have been using TomTom GPS for 2 years when traveling. I truely use this as my Sidekick, no pun intended, storing all my desired info at hand at all times. I have been a Mac Evangilist for more than 20 years, but the iPhone, as presented, doesn't come close to my needs (although it has tremendous innovation)and I will not use a Windows Mobile Machine. Until I see a machine that is an improvement on what I have I will happily continue to hang with Palm and it's Treo line.

Posted by: Dick Thorpe | February 10, 2007 3:58 PM | Report abuse

Well, it seems that "the so-so handheld" has taken over.

Still, I see the Palm faithful have risen to defend their beloved OS. The rest of the world, however, has moved on, evaluating the platform and hardware rather than holding on to an ideal that never existed in the first place...

Posted by: EdH | February 10, 2007 6:48 PM | Report abuse

I'm the Treo Editor for Palm Addict blog. Because we're the largest Palm-centric site on the web, I've been lucky enough to enjoy personal access to Ed Colligan and other key execs at Palm for the past few years.

To be honest, I have also tried to give them the benefit of the doubt, when it has come to bugs, issues, etc. on new devices. Generally, Palm has issued firmware updaters that correct a lot of these problems; but, that ignores the fact that a lot of poor design decisions up-front were the root cause of the problems.

With the Treo 700p, the problems are legion, cause the 700p to be less easy to use then the Treo 650...AND, have yet to be addressed by Palm despite the device being on the market for over 6 months.

Last month, I posted a thread on our forum, where unhappy 700p owners could document their issues; and, I promised to bring it all to Ed Colligan's personal attention.

We have over 100 posts to the thread now, and as of last week, Palm's execs promised that a firmware updater is on its way. The problem is that Palm is unable (or unwilling) to articulate exactly when the updater will be released (there are target dates...but, nothing official), or exactly which problems the updater will address.

Part of that problem may be the result Palm's insistence that these problems were not widespread; or, were the result of a shared hardware platform with the Treo 700wx (Windows Mobile)...which made them unfixable. These positions were articulated in a letter by Palm's Product Manager for Palm OS Wireless Devices. It was written in response to an open letter that was posted in TreoCentral's forum some months ago.

After I was unable to get direct contact with the Product Manager, I took the action of creating the thread, and starting to agitate. That got Mr. Colligan involved, and I he assigned an exec-level liaison to work with me on this issue. My experience with Ed Colligan that once he recognized a pervasive customer problem, he tried to address it.

If you are having Treo 700p problems, and want your issues to be seen by Palm's executives, please post them to the thread at:

Posted by: PJ Arts | February 10, 2007 7:56 PM | Report abuse

I love my Palm but I'm very concerned with what the company is doing. The Tungsten PDA's are probably the most successful non-phone PDA's Palm has produced, but Palm doesn't really care; they're all-Treo all the time. I'm not sure I'll even want buy a new Tungsten X when my TE (soon) dies, or even if I'll be able to buy a new one.

More on my blog (!95CB015E3E4A702A!195.entry)

Take care,

Posted by: David Moisan | February 10, 2007 8:14 PM | Report abuse

I have been a longtime Palm user and have also used several Windows Mobile devices. I have just upgraded from a Treo 650 to a 700p and (maybe I'm lucky) have not experienced any of the glitches of which others complain. Frankly, the device and the OS meet my needs so thoroughly that I don't care if the company is mismanaged. The complaints you raise don't speak to usability for me at all.

Posted by: Eliot Gelwan | February 11, 2007 9:55 AM | Report abuse

Rob, the exact same thing happened to me last week. There was an unexplainable draining of the battery in a short time. I connected the charger for about two hours. When I unplugged it, I was greeted with a message that said the battery was almost empty, and started a 30-second countdown to power off! I plugged it back in and left it about twelve hours, and things seem to be fine. I took it as an anomaly until I read your article just now. Could there be a bug/virus in Palm's code that created this "drop dead" date?

Posted by: Elaine | February 11, 2007 10:19 AM | Report abuse

I feel like I must be missing something-in my field, medicine, the Palm PDA system is still predominant.

I don't see much out there in a portable device that allows someone to access PDF's, the internet, and MS Word files. Merck, John's Hopkins, Skyscape, among others, make great Palm based programs for MD's.

Palms (in my case, the TX) are a great replacement for Ipods for listening to Podcasts. Actually, they are better than the Ipod in that you can download via WiFi podcasts and bookmark where you stopped listening.

There are better smartphones and Internet tablets coming out on the market all the time, but Palm is still number one in the medical field.

Posted by: S.Kirk | February 11, 2007 3:01 PM | Report abuse

Long time Palm user. Clie , Visor Edge, and Tungsten C. Still own all these Palm powered PDAs. But the Tungsten C with it big bright color screen and WIFI is what I'v been using for the past several years. Love it. Easy to use and very reliable. If my two years old Samsung Cell Phone gives up on me, I will move on to the new TREO 700 P. No windows mobile for me. Am staying loyal to Palm all the way. But I do pray hope they get their ACT together.

Posted by: J Adams. | February 11, 2007 5:39 PM | Report abuse

Bye bye Palm...

Posted by: The Hitman | February 12, 2007 5:25 AM | Report abuse

My only problem with my Treo 600 has been the "No Service" problem caused by a crappy battery. Thankfully they're not as hard to replace as the iPod's battery.

FYI, I have the Palm Adobe Reader and it works just fine.

Palm user since '98, not switching unless I have to...

Posted by: hemisphire | February 12, 2007 3:23 PM | Report abuse

I WAS a loyal Palm user for 10 years until my unit froze. After 5 or 6 iterations of sending it back to Palm for a refurbished one, all of which didn't work correctly, I switched to an HP iPaq. I was looking into a Treo at the time, but couldn't bear the thought of being without my phone when the Palm portion broke yet again.

Posted by: DocRock | February 12, 2007 9:46 PM | Report abuse

I'm on my 3rd Palm, a Tungsten E. On/off switch died, but you can use the other buttons. Newest universal wireless keyboard has flakey drivers, but if you get the newest driver, which isn't supposed to work on the E, and rotate the batteries a few times now and then when you lock up -- yes, the contacts are clean and the batteries fresh -- you can unlockup.

Sad sad sad. Clearly a company run by clueless suits.

-- stan

Posted by: Stanley Krute | February 14, 2007 9:47 PM | Report abuse

I'm on my 3rd Palm, a Tungsten E. On/off switch died, but you can use the other buttons. Newest universal wireless keyboard has flakey drivers, but if you get the newest driver, which isn't supposed to work on the E, and rotate the batteries a few times now and then when you lock up -- yes, the contacts are clean and the batteries fresh -- you can unlockup.

Sad sad sad. Clearly a company run by clueless suits.

-- stan

Posted by: Stanley Krute | February 14, 2007 9:50 PM | Report abuse

I had a Palm V PDA, and went throught the usual nonsense of finding out that most of the apps I had for tht PDA wouldn't run on the Treo 600. Later I updated to the Treo 650. Some of the pleasures it gave me were watching it reboot itself while it was just sitting on my desk; having it reboot when I tried to answer a call; sluggish response that caused me to press the answer button twice on an incoming call only to have the second press cause a hangup. Palm never did software updates. I could never figure out why they wouldn't let you dial a phone number embedded in an appointment when it would when the number was in an email. I am constantly putting people to call in my appointments and numerous conference calls and it would have made life easier if it could have dialed those numbers directly. And the Treo also won't pause after dialing and then dial an extension from the phone book, only from a speed dial. Just stupid.
But the lack of reliable email and push email is the real killer. VersaMail stinks, and I've never been able to make it send emails with ATT Worldnet.

Today I switched to a Blackberry 8703e (and back to Verizon after 4 years of trying Sprint and their constant dropped calls even with full signal strength.) We'll see how that goes. It was an easy choice - the discount Verizon gave me on the Blackberry (versus Sprint's NO DISCOUNT for an existing customer) made up for the Sprint cancellation penalty and then some.

Posted by: Peter | February 14, 2007 9:53 PM | Report abuse

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