From The Editor
by WDN Staff, April 26, 2000
Palm Zigs to the Microsoft and Transmeta Zags
Microsoft's Pocket PC platform was introduced last week amid a backdrop of announcements from companies interested in supporting
the former Windows CE operating system. When asked how they intend on taking handheld marketshare away from Palm Computing, Microsoft
officials repeatedly stressed that, due to superior hardware, you can do things on a Pocket PC device that you simply can't do on a Palm.
With companies such as PacketVideo announcing products for the platform, this statement was clearly true...until now
(although it's worth discussing at another time just what level of performance end users really require out of their PDAs). Yesterday, Palm introduced
plans to begin incorporating the ARM processor designs into future products. Palm also announced plans
to incorporate wireless capabilities into their entire product line. Both announcements were inevitable but I find the potential for an ARM-based
Palm to be very interesting.
If you're not familiar with the ARM line of chips, it should be noted that they are used in a wide variety of products including the late Apple
Newton, the Ericsson MC218 WAP phone, the HP Jornada Pocket PC, and the Psion series of devices running the EPOC OS. A color Palm device with
wireless communications and a low-powered 400 MHz processor opens the platform up to technologies such as speech recognition and multimedia; it also
serves to kill the Pocket PC's lone advantage by leveling the price/performance playing field.
While much of the focus in this market has been on the Pocket PC/Palm debate, it would stand to reason that Palm's announcement may also be
a preemptive strike at Transmeta. Just yesterday, Transmeta announced $88 million
in late-round funding. The amount doesn't interest me nearly as much as where the money came from. The latest investors in Transmeta include
AOL, Gateway, and Sony. Does anyone besides me believe that the real threat to Palm's dominance might be a low-cost, Transmeta-powered AOL
mobile terminal marketed to the masses of current AOL users?
One additional item to consider: what do the Samsung Yopy PDA, the Lernout and Hauspie PDA,
and projects like Itsy have in common besides the ARM chipset? Answer: They all are
ARM processor-based PDAs running the ARM Linux operating system. The Linux operating system has been
successfully ported to a wide range of platforms and it is but a matter of time before we see an implementation being sold in volume to the general
public. The advantages of low cost, high performance, and high reliability is surely something an enterprising vendor would consider. Will Palm
be the first major company to take the handheld Linux plunge? It will be interesting to watch, to be sure!
One question that arises out of this discussion is how this will affect PalmOS licensees. Apple Computer opened their platform up several years
ago and allowed outside companies to license their OS for resale on their own computers. However, Apple also garnered alot of bad publicity by changing
business strategies and leaving these resellers hanging. What will the port to an ARM architecture mean for licensees such as Handspring, Symbol,
and Sony? Also, will "legacy" Palm OS apps run on the new chipsets through some sort of emulation environment? The jump from a 16 MHz Motorola Dragonball
processor to a 400 MHz ARM clearly provides processor capabilities for emulation, but this extra layer will, by default, introduce bugs and uncertainty
into the development process. From a purely technical point of view, alternatives such as ARM Linux or Java development on Symbian's EPOC look very appealling due to
their portability and APIs that developers are intimately familiar with.
If nothing else is certain, one thing is clear: Palm is moving aggressively to ensure that they lose zero market share (currently 60%+)
with a goal of growing their lead over the competition. It is now time for the competition to determine what they will do about it.