We were having some discussions yesterday about how Palm, in its ten year history as a public company, was a complete and utter failure. One really stupid move after another doomed Palm. A history:
- Before going public, Eric Benhamou, then CEO of 3COM who owned Palm Computing, proclaimed that Palm would never be spun out as a public entity. Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins, the creators of the company, said screw you and left.
- 10 months later, Palm was a publicly traded company.
And thus the stupidity begins.
- Palm decides that the only way to survive is to license the Palm operating system against Microsoft’s onslaught.
- Palm, under a series of inept CEO’s, loses focus on what got them there to begin with: being the greatest personal organizer in the history of computing. Instead, Palm decided they could be all things to all people, trying to compete head-to-head with Microsoft.
- The last of Jeff Hawkins amazingly designed innovations goes to market: the beautiful, elegant Palm V. To this day I think it is still one of the most beautifully designed portable computers and inspired an entire line of products from the company with color, higher resolution displays.
- Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins form Handspring, license the Palm OS, and pick up the innovation mantel with expansion ports and, eventually, the Treo smartphone.
- Palm ships 3 or 4 new devices each year, making it impossible to buy a device and feel good about owning the latest and greatest for more than a month. Also, the company changes the stupid connector on every freakin’ model, meaning customers have to purchase new accessories with every device and pissing off hardware accessory makers everywhere.
- Sony, Garmin and others license the Palm OS. Rumors swirl that there is unrest among the licensees that there isn’t enough of a wall between the hardware Palm and software Palm.
- A series of idiotic marketing decisions are made: naming of the two halves of the company, device decisions, and my all-time favorite: the so-called “Palm Economy”, or in other words the biggest load of b******* ever heaped on a developer community that was getting less and less support from Palm.
- Handheld sales, meanwhile, are dropping every year since 2001 and Palm is investing heavily in vertical markets such as education, FIRE (finance, real estate, insurance), and medical.
- The OS is spun out into a separate company, Sony stops making Palm OS handhelds, and Palm hardware buys out a failing Handspring to get the Treo and its executive talent back.
- Treo becomes the hottest smartphone on the planet, selling a few million units per year.
- Palm hardware licenses Windows Mobile, completely confusing everyone who wants software to run on a Palm.
- PalmSource, the old software arm that was spun out, gets bought by Access and put out to pasture.
- Palm believes there is no future in handhelds and fires or re-assigns everyone specifically focused on selling those, wasting a $1 billion investment in the education and medical fields.
- The Palm TX ships, the last and greatest of the Palm handhelds. It was, for those that never used one, an iPod touch four years ahead of its time. By the way, for those of you counting, iPod touch has sold 40 million units in four years. Apparently there is no future in handhelds.
- Microsoft stops innovating with Windows Mobile and Palm OS is stagnant so there is no major changes in Treo devices over the years. Since there is no platform innovation, developers aren’t making any money either.
- The Palm Foleo is announced. The Palm Foleo is canceled. Jeff Hawkins disappears.
- Jon Rubenstein is hired as the latest in a long line of CEOs. Ed Colligan, Todd Bradley, Eric Benhamou, and Carl Yankowski are just the CEOs of the publicly traded Palm before Jon. David Nagel was CEO of PalmSource when it was a spun off company. Not bad for 10 years!
- Palm announced webOS and the Palm Pre. Everyone gets excited but devices don’t ship for months and the development environment isn’t ready yet. webOS is an awesome OS using web standard technologies to develop apps.
- Palm Pre has nice UI but no one has any clue who it is being marketed to. Palm undergoes some torture by trying to sync music directly from iTunes without Apple’s permission. That stupidity ended with Palm giving up. Palm commercials are weird.
- Palm ships the Pre; webOS in limited beta. You have to be on the short list to get invited and those invited seem to be old Palm OS developers. It was a nice idea to reach out to the base but Palm needed web developers excited. The old Palm OS developers needed a C kernel. Palm swears they won’t make C code work on the Pre.
- The Pre launches on… wait for it… Sprint. A lot of Sprint customers buy it. No one else switches carriers. Palm then launches the Pixi, which is the Pre without something.
- Palm announces that C code can now be used as a kernel for developing on the devices.
- Palm moves to Verizon and AT&T but is overshadowed by Android and iPhone on the two carriers. Bad timing.
- HP buys Palm, putting an end to a torturous 10 year existence as an independent company.
Writing this was a little cathartic, I have to admit. Hope you’ll add to my recollections in the history. If you are curious about the history before going public, check out Piloting Palm. Very interesting read.