Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Awkward Smart Phone Grows Up (New York Times)

Published: June 30, 2005 (Reg. req'd)

AND now, another episode of gadgetry's long-running corporate soap opera, "As the Palm Turns."

Previously on "A.P.T.": In Season 1 (1996), Palm Computing developed the smash-hit Pilot organizer. The company was swallowed by U.S. Robotics, which in turn was snapped up by 3Com. Frustrated, Palm's founders resigned and founded the rival Handspring. 3Com then spun out Palm as an independent entity once again, whereupon it soon split into two companies, PalmOne (hardware) and PalmSource (software), and PalmOne acquired the ailing Handspring.

In the latest exciting installment, PalmOne has bought back the name Palm from the struggling PalmSource, whose future is in doubt. By year's end, PalmOne will once again be called Palm, making you wonder if the whole thing was a nine-year-long dream.

Now, if you watch Seasons 6 through 9 closely on DVD, you'll see a minor character gradually rise to prominence: the Treo smart phone, introduced by Handspring in 2002. From the very beginning, the name reflected the Treo's triple goal: to combine an organizer, a cellphone and a pocket Internet terminal with as few compromises as possible. More than 1.7 million have been sold.

With its string of marriages and divorces behind it - at least for now - Palm has realized that the Treo is its future. The market for stand-alone organizers is cooling, so Palm has announced that it is "shifting its emphasis to the smart phone space."

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