How Palm Lost (Like Apple In The ’80s)

How Palm Lost (Like Apple In The ’80s)

The Droid and Android 2.0 as a whole, isn’t going to kill the iPhone. That’s ridiculous. It’s going to team up with the iPhone and straight up murder the Palm Pre and possibly others. Here’s why.

Reviews aren’t even hitting yet, but the early consensus is clear: Android 2.0 is the first version of Google’s OS that’s really grown-up. And now, with hardware like the Droid and the Hero, it’s not just a technological triumph, it’s the kind of thing that people—and not just leery, jaded tech blog readers—can connect with and actually use. This is huge.

iPhone OS is already a superpower, with massive adoption, a huge app store and a bright future. They’re not going anywhere. But Google vs. Palm? Think Apple vs. Microsoft, circa the late ’80s. Hear me out: With version 2.0, Android is sitting on the cusp of greatness. And Palm? They’ve got a nice OS, but with just two handsets and a tiny user base they’re up against a wall. Google is old Microsoft: They’ve got a open development platform, tons of hardware partners. They’re going to start having problems with this strategy—you know, fragmentation, device support issues, etc—but as with Microsoft, it’s going to serve them well. Palm is old Apple: With in-house hardware and iffy developer support, they’re just insular. What that means:

Hardware partners: Who isn’t developing an Android phone nowadays? Motorola, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericsson and HTC dwarf Palm’s hardware partner list, which consists of “Palm”. Android is the new Windows Mobile, but in a good way.

Apps: Apple learned from their past mistakes and actively courted developers from the start. Andriod’s start was slower and more organic, but seems to so far correlate with handset adoption, meaning it’s growing, and it’s about to grow a lot more. More apps = a better user experience = joy for Google.

Apps, again: Android came before webOS, and likewise, the Android SDKs came well before mojoSDK. But no matter how far into the future you look, Google has Palm beaten from a developer standpoint. If Android handset sales start to approach iPhone territory—tens of millions—the combination of a huge potential market and powerful development tools, especially SDK 2.0, will make the choice for developers obvious: Go with Apple, or go with Google. Palm won’t even register.

Resources: Google can dedicate tremendous amounts of money and time to developing Android, as their pastry-themed release schedule can attest to; Palm is hanging by a thread, and they haven’t issued a truly major update to their OS since it came out. Google can lose money on Android for as long as it wants, while Palm has to turn fast profit by building and selling phones, lest their nervous investors jump ship.

Google is an app development powerhouse: Their apps are becoming more and more central to the general smartphone experience. Apple and Palm both use Google’s maps and search, but naturally, Android always has a later, greater version of both.

Take what happened yesterday, with Google Navigation for Maps. Google can just will a free turn-by-turn navigation app into existence. Palm can’t do this. They can licence Google’s technology, sure, but that leaves them at the mercy of a competitor.

See, BlackBerry handsets are safe in their own way—suits need their keyboards, and familiarity is worth a lot—and Windows Mobile is on a fixed heading for total irrelevance as evidenced by their once-strongest ally HTC talking about the OS like it’s in hospice care. But there are just three true consumer smartphone OSes out there — the ones that don’t feel like complicated smartphones, but which do all the same tricks.

And of those three, only two can survive as superpowers. The rest, i.e. Palm, will perish.