Palm OS has been labeled the smart phone device platform of choice for enterprises by BlackBerry wireless email vendor Research In Motion. The admission came on the day that PalmSource [PSRC] and RIM announced that the software for connecting Palm-powered devices to BlackBerry services will soon be made available as a free download.
Tyler Nelson, VP global business development with RIM’s BlackBerry business told delegates at PalmSource’s Euro DevCon 2004 event in Munich, Germany that Palm OS has risen to the top of enterprise smart phone OS appraisals. This is despite the platform being frequently dismissed as a serious contender in the face of Symbian’s and Microsoft’s assault on the space.
It wasn’t clear six months ago there’d been a winner [in mobile OSs], said Mr Nelson. Now enterprises are standardizing more and more on smart phones based on Palm OS. I think the industry says Palm OS is the platform for smart phones.
Mr Nelson’s comments backed up similar confidence in the Palm OS platform from PalmSource president and CEO David Nagel. Frankly there have been a lot of skeptics relating to Palm OS saying Palm OS had missed wireless. We had that reaction in the US a year ago but that’s largely stopped. We’re now outselling Symbian and the various Microsoft platforms.
The influence of RIM’s patronage on the mobile device buying patterns of enterprises should not be underestimated. The company now claims over 20,000 behind-the-firewall installations of its BlackBerry Enterprise Server. It has also become a major hardware player in its own right. Recent estimates place the number of BlackBerry handhelds at over half a million units per quarter, on a par with Hewlett-Packard.
RIM’s support for PalmSource indicates that the company is aware that its own hardware may have a limited shelf life long term, despite the recent introduction of the 7100-series BlackBerry smart phones and its growing dependency on hardware for revenue. It was pretty clear that we couldn’t continue to invest in hardware. [The BlackBerry device platform] is clearly not as open or as powerful as a lot of other companies could produce.
Mr Nelson said there are now more than 50 mobile operators worldwide that offer BlackBerry, and all are apparently prepared to support Palm-powered Connect devices.
RIM’s overt backing of Palm OS came on the back of the announcement that the BlackBerry Connect email API (application programming interface), which will be released with the first version of the PalmSource Mail client, will be made available to operators and licensees in November. The BlackBerry Connect software will also be made available as a download to existing Palm OS device users to further encourage adoption, although no clear time frame was given.
As well as BlackBerry push email, the API will allow Palm OS developers to piggyback the BlackBerry email transport mechanism to securely extend other business applications such as CRM and sales force automation.
PalmSource was unable to confirm at time of writing whether or not such applications will be able to make use of local data stores on Palm OS devices. This would allow them to be used in an occasionally-connected mode rather than the more typical browser based access to back-end systems RIM offers via its own devices.
What remains unclear is the extent to which RIM’s support of PalmSource runs and how it differs (if at all) with similar relationships it has with other mobile platform and mobile device vendors. These include Symbian, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Windows Mobile device manufacturers Motorola and High Tech Computer, although Microsoft itself has so far not joined the BlackBerry Connect program.