Why Apple is on its way to become the new Palm

by Maarten Swemmer Leave a reply »
The Apple does not fall far from the Palm

They are not that different

I recently read an article, which stated that RIM was becoming the new Palm. That might be a fairly good observation: RIM (the maker of BlackBerry phones) isn’t doing well at all after all. However, there are more and perhaps more likely candidates for this title.

Palm was once a high tech company with revolutionary and business changing products. It’s handheld computers, ‘palmtops’ or ‘personal assistants’ seamlessly (this is an evolving term) integrated with business tools like Outlook for email, tasks and calendar. Palm launched the first successful app shop, where you could buy thousands of apps to extend your Palm’s functionality with both productivity tools and games. Although the Palm platform was strong, it wasn’t strong enough to face competition from for example Windows CE based handhelds and phones. Palm then decided to make Windows handhelds and mobile phones as well, while still selling Palm OS devices. Basically Palm did not really decide how to evolve, and that split its loyal user base.

RIM faces the same challenges as Palm did. Its platform was far superior to others, but is fast getting outdated and RIM does not seem to make a clear move to the future. It lacks momentum for its new OS and to counter that it makes it compatible with Android. Thereby further weakening its own platform, making it compete with the superior platform of Android and for example reducing the incentive for app makers to develop for the RIM platform.

Nokia however is perhaps doing even worse. I’m personally a huge fan of Nokia for the superior phone quality, but moved to Android after being disappointed by very bad experience with an early Nokia touch screen Symbian S60v5 phone, the 5800. Symbian was once superior, but for a long time it hardly evolved. In the meantime Nokia has made huge improvements and Symbian Belle has convinced me that Nokia is back on track. Nokia seems to have made a huge mistake however. The same mistake Palm made. Nokia has stated that it will stop Symbian, in favor of Windows Phone. Apart from the huge competition Nokia faces on that platform, it could still be a smart thing. However, Nokia has not stopped with Symbian. It still develops the platform and some new phones like the compact 701 with fantastic screen and intuitive user interface, are really good. They combine the familiarity you might have with older versions of Symbian with the smoothness you see on Android or iOS. This makes it quite hard for loyal fans of Nokia to choose between the familiar and improved Symbian or the new and more future-proof Windows platform which they do not need a Nokia for. And as everybody knows, choice is a detractor.

The last candidate for the Palm award is, and this might surprise you, Apple with its iPhone platform. It is slowly falling behind as well (although like with Nokia before, fans are quite loyal, for now). Apple’s iPhone 4S is a relative disappointment with limited innovations compared to it’s predecessor. Apple is experiencing difficulty innovating faster (as it previously was able to do like Nokia and Palm before it) than the dominant platform (now Android). iPhone has an already diminishing market share in the mobile phone market. Now less new Apps are developed for iOS than Android and some of the most popular paid apps are only available on Android. Accessories which previously were always first launched for iPhone are now first launched for Android. It’s iCloud service is likely to fail due to telecom providers introducing data limits etc… Like Palm, RIM and Nokia, Apple suffers from it’s closed system, and desperately holds on to it. If you compare apps, UI and other specs of entry level 200 euro Android phones, prices of the Apple devices are ridiculously high. In the end, even the superior marketing machine of Apple cannot compensate for that.

All candidates still have some time to turn the tide. This promises interesting developments in the mobile market!

2 Responses

  1. Bart Verkoeijen says:

    Interesting read. However, I think Android is actually more prone to fail due to it’s array of choices. The platform is so fragmented that it’s becoming close to a developer hell.

    And as you said yourself, choice is a detractor. The same thing we have seen already with Linux desktops, which are also very fragmented.

    The one thing that will prevail is consumer experience. After all, we no longer use our “phone” as a phone, but more like a pocket computer. Very much like how the people at Palm always wished to see it.

    So in the end I think it comes down to the platform.
    Apple has a large user base and buy-in from developers and is therefore a solid platform.
    Nokia failed to achieve the same for the new generation of touch interface phones and looked for a developer base with potential.
    Android struggles to maintain a stable API and releases, but impresses with many features for a small price.
    Microsoft is trying to reinvent their version of the touch interface, and happen to have a large legacy developer base, but it’s to be seen whether sufficient users will adopt.

    That last one – having a large developer and user base – is what I think, very important. Since this is the reason why webOS failed. It is a great OS, with lots of features, clean UI and simplicity. It just misses the user-base and developer buy-in. This chicken/egg story is not easy to tell.

  2. Maarten says:

    Choice becomes a detractor when a choice for, for example, an extra feature, has a negative side effect like a missing feature. And indeed, we all hope that consumer experience will prevail. In that respect I see that both Apple and Google could for example improve their markets, making it easier to find good apps between the tons of bad ones (unfortunately more choice does not mean better).

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