San Francisco (CA) – Palm this morning announced a future Treo smartphone, which will run Windows Mobile 5.0 instead of Palm OS. The company touted a feature expansion for the device, but left many questions open, including the future of Palm OS for Palm hardware. The “Treo on Windows” will be available “early” in 2006 and sold exclusively through mobile carrier Verizon Wireless.
Palm’s news came after rumors about a Windows-based Treo have been spreading for years and some details of the device have been leaked in the last week. While the announcement was important enough for Ed Colligan, president and chief executive officer of Palm, Bill Gates, chairman and chief software architect of Microsoft and Denny Strigl, president and chief executive officer of Verizon Wireless to appear on the stage on Monday morning, it was somewhat surprising how many questions surrounding the new product were left open.
For example, there is no product name so far, spec details were limited to “an Intel processor” and pricing was indicated to be “slightly higher” than current Treo products. The executives however revealed that the new device will distributed exclusively through Verizon Wireless to take advantage of the carrier’s 400-700 kbps 3G EVDO network and it will run a modified version of Windows Mobile 5.0 for a Palm OS-like feel.
Ed Colligan made sure to limit any upset among Palm OS enthusiasts with promoting the new device as an opportunity to grow the firm’s business and reach new customer user groups while continuing the Treo’s heritage as much as possible. “Partners sometimes compete and competitors sometimes partner,” he commented on the switch to the Windows operating system. “This is a strategic partnership and not about things going away. The new Treo acts like a Treo, it feels like a Treo, it is a Treo,” he said.
Colligan avoided to directly answering questions about the future of Palm OS. He mentioned that the sale of PalmSource to Japanese software maker Access “freed” Palm to release a Windows-based product. According to Colligan, “it won’t be a major change” and that there will be opportunities for Palm OS in the future. However, concern about Palm OS’ path is growing, especially with Access taking the operating system more into a Linux-focused direction and Palm now playing with Microsoft.
Stephen Drake, program director for mobile software at IDC, believes that Palm OS will face major challenge sin the future, for example from the developer community. “Some developers will not be writing for Palm OS anymore,” he said. This potentially could endanger an ecosystem that has made Palm OS one of the most popular platforms globally. “There is a justified question where Palm OS is going,” he said, “for Palm, the move to Windows was a decision of not battling Microsoft.” In terms of a future outlook, Drake said that “Palm OS is not dead, but it’s on life support.”
For Microsoft, Palm is a major step for Windows Mobile to provide credibility to the software platform and possible add new customer segments. Drake does not believe that the Treo alone will allow the company to get a stronger hold of the enterprise market to increase the pressure on Blackberry: “It’s mainly one less competitor out there for Microsoft. But there are still other things that need to be done in that space,” he said.
According to Ed Colligan, it was Verizon Wireless that came to Palm with a request to develop the Windows-based Treo. Which makes sense, since new mobile services are typically driven not by their simple existence, but through available devices. T-Mobile has its Sidekick, Cingular has the Rokr, now Verizon has a Windows Treo, which is designed to take advantage of a higher-speed wireless network. The companies believe that data services – a tool to increase the average revenue generated per user (ARPU) – will catch on with wireless mobile broadband: For example, the ability to send large attachments through EVDO will be convincing enough for users to buy the “Treo on Windows,” the firms said.