The former PDA giant's embarrassing cancellation of its Foleo mini-laptop last week, ignominiously announced on its CEO's blog, is just the latest shovelful of dirt in the grave of a company which once defined the handheld computer for millions of people.
The Foleo wasn't necessarily a bad product. But it was half-baked: Palm couldn't coherently tell the story of why you'd want to use it.
That's particularly sad because, well, I could.
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The Foleo's cancellation emphasizes Palm's main problem over the past few years: It can't deliver on new ideas.
The company is trapped in 2004, churning out incremental improvements to its 2004-era Treo 650 and regurgitating the same tired promises about a new operating system that we've been hearing since January of '04. Its standalone PDA line hasn't had any kind of refresh since 2005.
Meanwhile, the rest of the handheld industry moves ahead.
Palm's Treos were once the gold standard for usability and flexibility. Now, the latest BlackBerries play video and run hundreds of applications; the Apple iPhone has created a whole new market for smart handhelds; Nokia is showing how much multimedia power can fit into a phone-centric device; and Windows Mobile integrates beautifully with the Microsoft universe.
Yes, Palm makes Windows Mobile devices, but its Windows Mobile Treos are halfhearted, chunky and expensive compared to models produced by companies like HTC.
Palm's awkward cancellation of the Foleo is likely to hurt the company where it needs to curry support for a new operating system, with developers.
Palm got several big names on board writing Foleo software; killing the product wastes not only Palm's money, but the developers' as well. That's particularly important because software development for Palm OS has slowed to a trickle.
Palm now needs to give the public an idea of where the future is going — and, most importantly, when.
Palm's the company that cried wolf. We've been hearing about its new OS for so many years that there is absolutely no way anyone will believe its promises at this point.
Palm needs to set some deadlines, announce them and stick to them. It needs to suck up the tech community's disbelief for a while, and re-earn its respect by delivering big new ideas on time.
Palm has had two big, new ideas in the past three years: the Foleo and the LifeDrive.
Both have been good concepts, slightly ahead of their time, but lacking in the sheen and finish that you see on top handhelds.
When the LifeDrive came out, 4 gigabytes in your hand with a huge screen and the ability to edit documents was a new, great idea — except the thing was a slow, buggy mess.
The Foleo, meanwhile, could have been a lightweight alternative to laptops, except that Palm decided to position it incomprehensibly as a "smartphone companion." Nobody wants an extra device.
If you only have two big ideas in three years, you have to make them work. Nokia and Samsung succeed by throwing dozens of ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. Palm isn't in a position to let that happen.
And I'm less than enthusiastic about Palm's latest idea, the Centro. Maybe with more use, I'll change my mind about the keys being the size of flies' eyeballs. But it's obvious this is, once again, old wine in a new bottle.
Palm seems to have taken an ancient OS and packed it into an even less usable design than the existing Treos. That's a step backward, not forward.
There's still a sliver of hope for Palm. One company has come back from this level of ignominy to glory: Apple.
When Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1998, the company was in miserable shape. Our editor at the time, Jake Kirchner, was asking, "Will we miss Apple when it's gone?"
Jobs slashed product lines and introduced several visionary new products, starting with the iMac in 1998, heading through OS X in 2000, and culminating with the iPod in 2001.
It was a long road back, but Apple walked it. Will Palm have a Steve to save it?
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