Palm: End of Days. Was it their SDK that killed them?

I’ve been tweeting and writing for some time that I think it’s probably going to be a downward spiral into oblivion for Palm in the coming months. Which is a shame. To be clear : It’s not over yet for Palm. But the writing does seem to be on the wall.

Before the advent of the iPhone I was a confirmed Palm Treo user. Nothing that Nokia or Microsoft could produce came even close to Palm’s already horribly out of date mobile phone OS. It seemed back then we were all waiting for either Palm to get it’s act together, or Apple to launch their rumoured iPhone.

palm-pre-webosUnfortunately when Palm finally produced something close to what we had all been hoping for in webOS and the Palm Pre, it was far too long after Apple and Google had staked their claim on the market place with Android, the iPhone and their App Stores.

I have mentioned a few times in the last 12 months or so that Palm needed to get a decent SDK out to developers. I was most vocal about this when I was first accepted into the Beta program for developers when Palm first launched webOS. At the time I was stunned as I leafed through the documents for their SDK, and fired up the development software, that I had absolutely no access to a real graphics API, or the ability to write high performance code for the ARM CPU & the GPU in these phones. I emailed friends in the dev community asking if I had missed something, or downloaded the wrong package. At the time I penned a letter to Palm telling them that this would be the death of their smart phone business. Which is their entire business after all.

When reporting on the Game Developers Conference in San Francisco earlier this month, I mentioned I was excited that Palm had finally got an OpenGL ES SDK (they call it their PDK) out to developers. This meant that finally all developers (not just select partners) could write or port high performance games and more to Palm’s mobile phone eco-system.

At the time I wrote that I was “sceptical if this will cause a massive boost in the Pre’s popularity. But it is a step in the right direction, finally. And means that frustrated Palm gamers can look forward to some more fun with their devices.”

It appears that I may have been too optimistic in that article. Even though elsewhere I had already questioned whether Palm would really ever make it back. Somewhere deep in side I still wanted them to succeed I guess.

As Palm’s stock price tumbles, and more and more details of their finances emerge, it seems ever more clear to me, and other tech writers, that Palm are already a “dead man walking” in the tech business. As of today, on paper, even though they boast a $500 Million war-chest, their combined cash, assets and debts potentially add up to $0. That’s right. Nothing.

An article I read earlier today by Jean-Louis GassŽe brought this home ever more clearly to me : [mondaynote.com]

Many writers are putting forward their thoughts on why Palm’s re-launch and webOS have failed.

Undoubtedly webOS is great. But ultimately Palm chose the wrong things to focus on, and got very unlucky with their choice of launch dates and initial partners. Their hardware was not quite up to scratch out of the door either. Some believe foolish headline grabbing stunts like the cat and mouse game they played with Apple and iTunes synching all factored into their lack of focus and ultimate slide.

But for me it comes down in big part to the fact that they messed up with their own version of an App Store, and took far far far too long to get a descent fully featured SDK into the hands of developers.

ars technica have quite an interesting piece on it here : [arstechnica.com]

In short, paraphrasing Jean-Louis GassŽe, “Who will buy Palm?”. My bet is the same as his. No-one!

A long shot might be one of the newer Asian tech companies, who may buy it up for the webOS technology for pennies on the dollar.

What do you think? Will you miss Palm?

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  • Cache

    The lousy SDK was certainly another nail in the proverbial coffin, but it was not the only one. Palm lauded the Pre initially as an iPhone killer, but the design is not something that focuses on media-rich viewing like Apple's phone–it resembles a transforming BackBerry. The keys were always horrible to use–so it cannot match the 'text' crowd with other phones. And finally, the use of a phone carrier rated so low as to be barely existent.

    Palm will–in my opinion–be purchased, its' assets sold and its' intellectual properties re-branded by whomever buys it. It's a sad, sad end to an otherwise enterprising company. Given that their management has been trying to keep the losses in perspective instead of making a final push to reach consumers is the final death knell. Their management knows Palm is dead, it's merely circling the drain.

  • Ardwych W

    I have to say that I liked the look of the Pre but I was shocked to read just now in PCWorld-com that they have stopped making them to sell out their stock.
    Okay, the USA is 330m people but here in Australia we have another healthy 30m market. And is the Pre on sale here? Hardly anyone has heard of it. If I offered a million dollars (AUS) I wouldn't be able to get one that worked on our (very modern) networks.
    And in how many other countries does the Pre suffer the same fate?
    Yes, the USofA is the biggest, but there's something else out there; it's called The Rest of The World.
    If I were the chairman I'd be taking a baseball bat to Rubenstein. Blinkered CEO vision is what's killing free enterprise in America. You've had it too long and run by too many fat-cats for too long. Look about.

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