Why Palm Needs a Hero Phone

Over the past few years, Palm has been great at creating hype to surround their events. They have been very successful in getting everyone in a tizzy before product announcements. Prior to this past CES, where they sat on the sidelines, Palm has done a fantastic job in creating buzz around their events. In many ways, I’ve considered Palm events to be Apple-like, save for the black turtleneck. When Palm announced the Pre in 2009, the run-up to the release was exciting and Palm delivered. Flash forward to 2011 and the hype machine is well underway. Now under HP, Palm is once again in a familiar place, on the big stage they’ve created. They skipped CES and now the lights will shine even brighter on the stage on February 9th. The invite says, “Think Big, Think Small, Think Beyond”. The past few weeks have brought no shortage of leaks surrounding Topaz, one of multiple webOS tablets expected to make their public debut on February 9th. Not much has been said or leaked regarding the most important piece of any mobile platform and that’s a long overdue update to webOS phones. Dan Ramirez at webOSRoundup put it best when he said, “smartphones are the epicenter of mobile computing”. The time for HP|Palm to deliver a hero phone is now and it’s vital to the success of any tablet or product that will be part of the larger webOS ecosystem said to be in the works.

Palm Hero Phone

When HP bought Palm, the plan was to run webOS on an assortment of devices, certainly a plausible idea. With the success of the iPad, tablets are all the rage. To date, there haven’t been any competitors to the iPad. The Galaxy Tab from Samsung opened to mixed reviews and even Google acknowledged the current Android OS wasn’t suited for tablets. That changed this week when Google announced the release of the Android 3.0 SDK, Google’s OS that allows developers to create apps for tablets. Google has over 200,000 apps in their Android Market and no shortage of third party developers. Motorola and Samsung will have tablets in the market by the end of Q1. HTC will likely join them, although the company hasn’t announced their tablet plans as of yet. Developers will likely get on board given their familiarity with development on the Android platform and the expected sales based on the sheer number of tablets available in the marketplace by year’s end. Google also has the ability to ship tablets with an array of Google apps, designed for Honeycomb (Android 3.0). While it’s not a given that developers will flock to Android 3.0 without seeing significant sales numbers of the Tab and Motorola XOOM, the tablet buzz at CES alone will likely get developers interested. iOS isn’t slowing down and neither is the iPad app count available in the AppStore.

Herein lies the trouble for HP Palm. They don’t have that large developer pool found on iOS and Android. Regardless of the elegance of webOS, developers haven’t flocked to the platform. This creates a horse before the cart scenario for Palm. I fully expect Palm to deliver an elegant looking tablet specific version of webOS. All the greatness of webOS built intuitively for a line of tablets. They’ll also announce the immediate availability of the webOS SDK that allows for apps to be created for the newly announced webOS tablets. The developer event happening February 9th will likely get existing developers pumped for webOS tablet development. This is all good stuff, but it’s not enough. A good portion of current developers will bring tablet versions of their apps to the App Catalog, while some will take a wait and see approach. Rumor has it that Palm will kick off another million dollar competition and that will certainly get some attention from developers. Still not enough. Developers want to see volume sales and volume sales will be harder to come by with a $400-$700 tablet (pricing yet to be determined). Volume sales are accomplished by handset sales. Something not achieved by either the Palm Pre or Palm Pixi line. The time to change that is now.

Building a Palm Superphone
At CES 2011, there was a common theme among phones coming out this year. Most included faster processors, large vivid displays in a black slab format. This is what people want. This is what sells. I’m just one person, but I’d say my opinion is likely in line with other webOS enthusiasts desperately waiting for HP|Palm to build a true superphone. Here’s my abbreviated checklist of wants:

  • Large, vivid display
  • Thin, black slab that doesn’t compromise size with battery life
  • On-screen keyboard
  • Super fast processor
  • Build quality. Build quality. Build quality.

Sure, I could get into specifics, but I’m more concerned about the webOS experience this new phone will bring to the table. I don’t want a phone that needs to be overclocked in order to be on par with usability of other platforms. For all its beauty, I’ve also been disappointed with in-app experience. I still hold out hope that webOS 2.1 will improve things on my Palm Pre Plus. If the OS cannot improve it’s speed, then throw in dual-core processors. I don’t necessarily believe that Palm needs to compete in the Android space where specs help to drive sales. As I’ll touch on later, hardware cannot be ignored and can impact sales. Ultimately, Palm is about experience and that needs to improve. As an end user, I’m less concerned about the engine and more about performance.

From time to time, you hear about people leaving the webOS platform, largely due to the lack of new hardware. I see many of these same people, either on Twitter or our forums, missing webOS. For those who have drifted, a Palm hero phone would likely bring them back into the fold. Hardware clearly plays a role in selling phones. That applies to those who have experienced webOS and those considering a new smartphone. HP|Palm’s new phone will be on the shelves next to the likes of the HTC Thunderbolt, EVO 4G, iPhone 4 and the Droid family of phones. The new hardware must meet or exceed this group in addition to meeting performance requirements outlined above are met. Run of the mill isn’t enough when you’re running behind the pack. The same can be sound for Windows Phone 7. Despite several new and capable phones, Windows Phone 7 lacks a flagship phone.

On February 9th, HP|Palm will likely introduce a complete eco-system of webOS products. It would not be at all surprising to see tablets, phones, printers and maybe even a netbook.. Smartphones sell volume. Volume sales bring developers, the very same developers HP|Palm will need to bring dynamic new tablet-optimized apps to new line of webOS tablets. This latest comeback will feature an array of webOS devices, but Palm needs a hero phone on February 9th. Any comeback would be incomplete without one.


  1. # Large, vivid display
    # Thin, black slab that doesn’t compromise size with battery life
    # On-screen keyboard

    oh boy, someone else with iPhone envy.

  2. Anonymous says:

    That describes pretty much every phone announced at CES.

  3. Amateurhack says:

    That may describe every phone at ces, but there are still a lot of droids, epics, and bb torches being sold. I think they need to cover all of the various form factors to appeal to a wide range of buyers to become relevant in this market. Android didn’t become the #1 o.s. on the back of a single unit; they did it across many phones in many different forms.

  4. Some of Palm’s problems are due to the fact that they aren’t pushing the hardware capabilities that they have now. I hope that going forward they don’t rely solely on CPUs getting faster to make webOS faster.

  5. I think not iPhone envy, Palm/HP just needs to be up to date on hardware, and not releasing the same old hardware. That description could describe any phone now, the key is to keep up with the changes. The inside will be what ultimately matters to buyers and the WEB OS is amazing, but don’t give me the same hardware over and over, change is good.

  6. I must say, running the Pre2, it’s just as the Pre should have been. Smooooth (almost) all the time. It’s really yummy, actually. So, while I agree that phones are important I believe releasing them everywhere is also important. If they come out with three of the expected six new phones of 2011 at the 9th event, and one of them are drool-inducing, I see a bright future..

  7. Gone2Disneyland says:

    It was great to read this. I needed it! I’ve been a loyal Handspring/Palm user for ten years now. But when I had my Pre replaced with a refurbished one, it hasn’t been the same. I’ve been getting grumpy with it, and I started looking at Android seriously to buy one for the first time (I can’t jump on the iPhone cult). I’m holding out until Feb 9th to see if there’s a new smartphone. If not, I’m really gonna be sad to leave Palm.

  8. I had to switch to android this year, after being a palm user for over ten years. Hopefully, things will change next month, but this is their last chance to be relevant.

  9. I have used Palm since 1996…wow, 14 years, i can’t believe it! I have not even switched to the Pre because I am so stuck on the original main 4 apps which I use daily to run my small business. I sync to 3 computers daily. It seemed so complicated to get my 14 years of info into the Pre that I didn’t bother. I think there are a lot of old geeks like me who would embrace the new HP line if there was an easy way to get data into the new phone…palm’s choice to ignore this issue was suicidal. Let’s see if they recover….i will be watching closely.

  10. I am so tired of the lack of support for the WebOS. We’ve been promised updates to it for a couple years, but now they say they have a WebOS 2.0 and it still hasn’t appeared….how could anyone ever buy a Palm or HP product after having delt with their lies and lack of commitment to their customers?

  11. Amroulhac says:

    I would hate to have to jump ship. Love webOS but like I say on Palm’s fb page all the time (…and apparently about a trillion and one ppl seem to agree), I would rather see a fleet of webOS smartphones before I see one webOS pad. I do understand pads are the wave of the future but this article hit the nail on head when it qoted Dan Ramirez “smartphones are the epicenter of mobile computing.” idk, I’ve just been holding out. Just about everyone I knew with a Pre (or pixi) now, seems to own an EVO. Come with it HP!!!

  12. Some of us actually bought the Pre, because we really liked the form factor. For others, there are many, many options.

    I am confident HP Palm will make webOS available on many different form factors, so everyone will be happy.

  13. Anonymous says:

    When they first introduced webOS, Jon Rubinstein promised “a family of smartphones”. They haven’t delivered on a variety of form factors. The Pixi is a cool form factor, but they are in need of a webOS phone with a large display. It doesn’t have to be Droid X style large, but something in the Nexus One range. Being the manufacturer and the developer of webOS, it’s up to them to deliver multiple form factors. One of the advantages Google and Microsoft have is their ability to see their OS on a variety of form factors.

    I liked my original Pre, but it feels like the form factor has gotten smaller now that I’m using other phones (Nexus One, Samsung Focus, iPhone 4).

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