Palm To Partners: Bend Over

Looks like Palm is up to their old tricks: screwing their partners.

I have a long history with Palm, for good and for bad. In about a one year period, Palm screwed Infinity Softworks three times, costing us millions in revenues.

The first time was when Palm dropped their education team. Palm had a very experienced, excellent team focused on the education market and handhelds as a a 1-to-1 solution. We made a bet-the-company decision and focused on graphing calculators in the 6-12 grades. In order for us to be successful, though, we needed acceptance on the College Board’s Advanced Placement Calculus exam. With that we had two states and lots of districts ready to put us on the approved list. We spent two years gaining acceptance on the exam, with Palm’s help, and just as we were approved for trials Palm fired their education team and the College Board backed out.

The second time was when Palm switched their backend software service from Handango to PalmGear, at that time the two primary leaders in mobile software sales. It wasn’t the switch but instead the terms: Palm + PalmGear started taking 65% of the MSRP for themselves and wanted us to develop a custom version of the software for their site without any urls, email address, etc., that could link back to our own web site. (When Apple entered the app market it was still like this. 30% margins felt like heaven!)

The third time is when Palm stopped bundling powerOne Personal. We had bundled an app with almost every Palm device for 7+ years, always giving them a product for free (we made our money on upsells). As we approached the release of a new device, Palm kept changing the requirements. Finally, with one week to final build, Palm asked us to localize our app into five languages. We lost 75% of our revenue within months, practically killing the company and any attempt to recover from the education bet.

I was hoping, with their downfall and the return of some great people from the early days of Palm, that the stripes had changed over there. But it looks like that is for naught. Palm had a deal with Motion Apps to provide a Palm OS simulator. While the simulator was not bundled it did require a ROM bundled with the device, which Palm has removed with webOS 2.0, apparently in breach of contract.

What a shame. Palm, in its early days, was an amazing company with incredible people. I know a number of those people are still there or returned but it is sad that the company DNA has been corrupted and destroyed. I have every right to be mad at Palm and wish for its demise, but instead I look back at that company and the work we did there and am just saddened that all that potential was tossed away.

8 thoughts on “Palm To Partners: Bend Over

  1. I totally agree. I had a similar experience in the European Schools, where PowerOne Graph (on a Tungsten T3) was the main candidate for replacing all the huge and inefficient Student calculators. And now my main reason for staying with Palm was again the full functional version of this Sw. But, alas, I’ll have to drop Palm as a smartphone and keep my old Treo just for using Powerone Graph.
    How sad. If Hp wants to compete with Apple n this field, they have started cutting their best leg.

  2. I bet you wouldn’t have that issue if you developed for Android. Actually, I would be the first to purchase a good calculator for Android. Say, the Commercial Real Estate One…. Hint!

  3. I’m a little curious as to whether you’ve read the “Piloting Palm” book (Pogue was one of the authors) – I found the language a little too simplistic (it’s like they were writing it so that grade schoolers would be able to read it), but there were quite a lot of interesting facts in there; a lot of the issues w.r.t. mobile devices seemed very relevant today still – and, particularly, to Nokia/Symbian (the hardware/software platform split, which Nokia gave up on eventually too). I *think* recall some mention in there of why the education team got killed but I can’t remember the details.

    As for Android – well, I think there genuinely is an issue w.r.t. fragmentation w.r.t. Android. And I suspect if you’re targeting “education”, a lot more kids are going to be toting iOS devices (curated App store; more central control – which is precisely what parents want) than Android…

    • Actually, I bought it when it first came out. I even have hardback 🙂 I remember that book being even too rosy for the time and that was 2002 when it was published, long before the company really started to dry up and a few years still before the education team was disbanded. In 2002 that education team was really just starting to rock and roll, actually.

      As for education, we aren’t focused on it anymore. It was the second life in Infinity Softworks’ long history 🙂


      • ah, then I guess it must have been some other team that got killed – quite a few incidents like that in Palm’s history…

  4. I have been a long-time Palm user, often recommending their products and the many developer’s applications to clients. Like so many of the major players in the early-mid PC market (Symantec, Software Publishing Corp, Fox Software, others), realizing where they came from was a distant second to selling out (or “acquisition gone crazy”) the loyal customers. Newer didn’t necessarily mean better. I use PowerOne Windows desktop daily and did use it on my Palm Treo’s. I did not download Classic for my Pre Plus. HP should have (and still could) demonstrate loyalty to the many who still can’t find alternate apps to match those on Palm OS. They could bring the Pre up to at least the functionality of the Treo at its demise and go from there. It’s pretty, fun, and fast. But its also limited by weak versions of almost every basic and available app compared to the rich choices for Palm OS.

    At this point, if I replace the Pre with an alternate OS, it would be Android, because despite some issues, it is the fastest growing and most innovative set of apps & hardware. For those that had Palm/Windows apps, I hope those developers consider continuing desktop versions, possibly a web-based device-independent version, and/or an Android version as part of a new stream of for-profit market offerings.

    Thank you for a great product. Keep up the good work.

    • Thanks, John. I recognize that companies have to change as they get bigger. I didn’t expect Palm to be the same in 1997 as it was in 2004 given the rate the company was growing, but it is not that hard to be respectful. In the end the company is getting what it probably deserved, a whooping in the market. It is unlikely the company can recover now.


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