Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Phone Angst, Part II: Will HP Kill Palm Smartphones?

I was feeling pretty happy with my Palm Pre until I started seeing this headline making the rounds of the Internet: HP CEO: 'We didn't buy Palm to be in the smartphone business' | Here we go again. I have been hearing about the imminent demise of Palm for almost as long as I have used Palm's products. In the past it has been little more than the rantings of disgruntled users but this time it's the CEO of Palm's soon to be parent company which while not actually suggesting that it is not interested in Palm's core business. While that may not have been his intent, it is a troubling thing to hear nonetheless.

When I first bought my Palm Pre almost a year ago, it was because I was looking for a platform which I could use over the long haul. After a decade of using PalmOS PDAs and smartphones, my attempt to move to Android in the form of the T-Mobile G1 did not work out. It was a technically amazing mobile platform which fell wildly short of the ease of use that I had enjoyed with PalmOS.

The Pre and webOS felt like a second chance to me. It was an open, modern mobile operating system which was backwards compatible with PalmOS through the Classic emulator. It seemed like the perfect platform for my needs. And it has only gotten better in the past year with regular updates.

But none of that matters if I can't buy another webOS smartphone once my Pre no longer works. While my Pre is still going strong, it is also showing its age. It has a small crack on the upper left hand corner of the screen—it's barely noticeable now but it's sure to grow over time. It is beginning to suffer from the infamous "oreo effect" where its slider flexes in a left to right fashion. And I have to overclock its processor for it to be as fast as newer phones. While a webOS tablet would be cool it will not be able to take the place of my Pre when it finally gives up the ghost.

While it's entirely possible—even probably—that Palm or HP might clarify the situation to give Palm's smartphones a vote of confidence, I feel more cynical about the platform today than I even have before.

Update: After reading some of the discussion at Precentral and the ZDNet article which helped provoke a lot of the discussion, I am probably a little more reassured that webOS is part of a larger strategy which calls for a large number of devices which presumably includes smartphones. But I still have to wonder if HP won't simply let Palm die away slowly the way they did with its Jornada PDAs and Compaq's iPAQ line of PDAs and smartphones. Only time will tell I guess.

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