High End OS, Low Prices
By Eric Lin, Tue Sep 28 00:00:00 GMT 2004

PalmSource has announced a new operating system with promises of smartphones galore. The company will launch 11 different models from at least three manufacturers.

PalmSource announced a new version of the Palm operating system specifically for smartphones. Instead of just sprucing up OS 5 as was originally expected, the new phone-friendly OS is based on OS 6. In addition to the improvements already in Cobalt, PalmSource has built in support for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi so that licensees will not have to add their own stacks. It has also improved support for Blackberry's push email and other corporate email solutions. In order to make the whole OS more phone like, PalmSource has added one handed hardware navigation to the whole user interface, much like Symbian has done to UIQ for version 3.0 and it has finally built in support for Java.

In fact, most of the changes PalmSource has made help the Palm OS catch up to where Symbian and Microsoft are now. For its part, Symbian used the buzz to announce it will improve group scheduling and a few other PIM tasks where it lagged behind Microsoft or Palm for the next versions of its OS. The three OS companies are converging towards a technical parity (at least for their pen-based OSes) even if each have different interface and device strategies.

PalmSource has made a surprising move and followed a trail blazed by Microsoft. The first licensees of PalmSource's smartphone OS are not PalmOne and other PDA manufacturers, but three ODMs (Original Device Manufacturers) which the New York Times says will launch 11 devices (registration required). Windows Mobile Smartphones are designed and built by ODMs which then sell the units to carriers or even phone manufacturers to brand and sell as their own. Although Symbian has been dominating the smartphone marketplace, a new study from ABI Research claims that Microsoft's low-cost, carrier branded smartphones could eventually put Redmond in the lead. PalmSource is obviously learning from Microsoft's strategy, however this study says Palm entered the game too late to win it.

Even if PalmSource is taking the right approach hardware-wise (which is still unclear, considering this is only the opinion of one study), its reliance on a PDA- or pen-based interface is still holding it back. The majority of Symbian devices sold are Series 60 smartphones. Microsoft's Smartphones are also proving popular compared to Pocket PC models. Each functions much like a regular phone, but with added capabilities that should serve the needs of most users. Even if PalmSource uses ODMs to create affordable smartphones, its interface could still turn most users off, relegating it to the list of also-rans despite efforts to turn things around.