Speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit, HP's Palm division head Jon Rubinstein said the company "should have owned the smartphone market," but made mistakes and faltered.
Palm's story is one of early successes followed by a long, slow decline as competitors caught up and passed the company that developed the original personal digital assistant.
"Palm created the PDA (personal digital assistant) space with the Pilot and the smartphone space after it with the Treo," Rubinstein said. "So by birthright, Palm should have owned the smartphone market, but it just lost its way. It's a very similar story to what happened with Apple."
Palm fielded the first PDA over a decade ago. The Palm Pilot was invented by Jeff Hawkins, Donna Dubinsky, and Ed Colligan. After a while, the three became unhappy with Palm's direction and split off to form Handspring in 1998. There, they licensed Palm's operating system, but made their own hardware -- namely the Visor and Treo line of smartphones. In 2003, Handspring was acquired by Palm and formed the company palmOne. The platform company was spun off into its own entity.
The Treo 600, which hit the market in 2003, ushered in the modern smartphone era. It was one of the firsts devices to seamlessly merge the phone, calendar, and contacts applications. Palm followed the Treo 600 with the 650, 700, and myriad other iterations. By the time Apple's iPhone hit the market in 2007, Palm's devices were looking outdated and didn't offer as many features. They were completely eclipsed by the iPhone, and later, Android.
Palm attempted a re-birth in 2009 with webOS and the Pre and Pixi smartphones. It wasn't enough. Palm was acquired by HP earlier this year. "We needed more resources," Rubinstein said. "We could not compete in a fashion that would allow us to be one of the premier companies in the marketplace. And HP needed a strong mobile strategy around which they could innovate–one that would allow them to control their own furture and not rely on the kindness of stranger."
Now that it has access to HP's resources, Rubinstein feels better about Palm's chances moving forward. "We've actually pulled a couple hundred people out of HP and made them part of Palm," Rubinstein explained. "We're using them to broaden our scope and we're just cranking away. Our view is we're going to see people with more and more devices in the future and HP is in the middle of all this. So our focus is to deliver a unified experience for that around webOS."
When asked specifically what sort of products are to be expected of Palm, Rubinstein said, "We’'e got some great products in the works. Some smartphones, a great tablet coming. I think we have several products that will be hits when they come out…. Everyone forgets, we just closed this acquisition in July…. This time next year, you’ll see us in a very different position."
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