10 Things That Might Help Palm Survive

PalmWebOS-thumbPalm, Inc., obviously has a rough road ahead of them and there are some things they could do to increases the chances of survival. Some change is a necessity, given that potential buyers like HTC are dropping out, some competitors are offering sexy new handsets, and others are dominating markets. Palm has been good with niches before, and they could pull that off again.

The blogosphere is abuzz with Palm news, that HTC dropped out of the bidding to takeover the company, that Lenovo is the leading candidate instead (which may not help), that Palm is vowing to survive as an independent, and so on. Meanwhile, Apple’s quarterly report shows sales up — mainly thanks to the iPhone — and that even have 72% of the Japanese smartphone market. As well, several new handsets from various makers are appearing or are about to, and numerous mobile and gadget sites are covering these facts. What has Palm done lately to warrant coverage, other than suffer?

  1. Change the app publication fee structure. It’s a weird mixed bag of confusing fees, and it doesn’t encourage non-paid apps developers. Free apps developers are not going to earn the company any direct revenue, though if they’re “cool” or at least useful and exclusive, might help generate handset sales. Currently, Palm waves the $99 developer fee, but the wording is still confusing. This fee isn’t an issue, rather it’s the per-app fees that should go.
  2. Make the phones less flimsy. I owned a Palm Vx back in late 1999 (no phone) that was sturdy and while no longer functioning, is still physically intact. Ditto for my Palm Treo 650, which still functions but is CDMA-based, making it useless for VoIP use, which is why I originally bought it. On the other hand, I’ve already exchanged my Palm Pre Plus once. It just feels flimsy. Every time I open up the keypad portion, I worry that the device will get caught on a table edge or even scratch my iPad screen inches away.
  3. Promote the Mobile Hotspot option. Palm Pre Plus and Pixi phones have a mobile hotspot option that allows your data plan to be tethered. Up to five other WiFi-enabled devices can then connect to the Internet. This is is fantastic if you’re out in the field with a laptop or even an Apple iPad WiFi-only model. Except there’s one problem…
  4. Better battery life. The mobile hotspot option, which Verizon no longer charges $40/month for (now free) is great in concept, except my iPad and MacBook’s batteries last way longer than my Palm Pre Plus.
  5. More apps. The Palm “app catalog” is woefully lacking. Sorry, but if don’t have the apps for your device, why would consumers buy? And if there’s too small a paid market for paid apps, why would developers make the effort?
  6. Support the old Palm OS. I have a number of apps on my old Treo that I would love to run on WebOS, but it ain’t happening, even with the free app that runs “classic” apps. Unless the app publisher revamps the app, there’s on guarantee of running old apps on WebOS phones. So if owners of old Palm phones have to choose between what’s available and WebOS’ lack of apps, what will they choose?
  7. License WebOS. Palm may have brand name value, but they just don’t have the cachet and cool factor that Apple does with its products — unless maybe Bono starts doing Palm commercials, considering he’s an investor. Palm does have plans to license WebOS, and if they can get other device makers on board, then they can increase the number of available apps.
  8. Educate developers. Palm has a 2-day workshop going on today and tomorrow in Sunnyvale that costs the low price of $25. But they could also offer a set of quality “how to develop for” videos the likes of Apple’s for iPhone OS. I’ve learned a great deal from Apple’s videos, both their own and those taped from the Stanford U courses taught by Apple stafff. The videos are free and available on iTunes. If Palm did the same sort of thing (hey, maybe Bono can narrate some of them), that would go along way in encouraging development houses that the company really is in it for the long term.
  9. A clear plan for the future. That plus communicating that widely. CEO Jon Rubenstein can say he has high long-term hopes for Palm, but that means nothing after 11 quarterly losses. Do they have a plan? Are they rudderless and operating only because they have cash reserves? Have they approached sites and blogs to kick up the PR machine for their future?
  10. A killer device. That clear plan should have a killer device in it. What would that be? Is there room for another tablet or iPad-like mobile device? Yes, if it both fulfills all the things the iPad lacks and offers apps not found elsewhere.

Even though I’m going to Palm’s WebOS developer conference this weekend to learn something about the OS, I’m also going to gather developer sentiment and make my own judgement about what the future might hold. Not sure what that will be.