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Is Windows Phone 7 Following in Palm's Footsteps?

While many loathe writing off Palm, the company responsible for creating the first generation of PDAs, the prognosis isn't looking too good. At the moment, those predicting Palm's demise seem to be heavily outweighing those who believe the company is going to regain its former glory.

Palm's sustainability came into deeper scrutiny late last week when the company said it shipped 960,000 units and only sold 408,000 of them. That suggests the company has stuffed its channel with a ton of unsold inventory. The news caused its shares to drop 30 percent Friday. Though the shares rallied early on the news that AT&T would start selling its devices, the company's shares closed down half a point.

Critics point to a number of missteps by Palm, from choosing Sprint as its exclusive launch partner (it added Verizon in January)  to releasing the new device last summer -- days before Apple started shipping its next generation iPhone. But the biggest mistake has been how the company treats its partners and developers.

Despite the promise of delivering a software development kit that would be friendly to any JavaScript or HTML developer, the tooling failed to arrive in advance of the device. This dampened the prospect of it building a rich partner ecosystem. And now there are only 2,000 apps that support Palm's WebOS, compared with 170,000 for the iPhone, 30,000 for Google's Android and 5,000 for Research in Motion's BackBerry, according to data compiled by Silicon Alley Insider.

The 1990s saw Palm building a vast developer ecosystem with its PalmOS. "Back in the early days, Palm could do no wrong and was an unstoppable force, it dominated the PDA space…" recalls longtime Palm devotee Mark Nielsen in a blog posting last month.

But a key problem this time around was that Palm lost the developer ecosystem long before WebOS, Nielsen continued. Under that backdrop, Nielsen begs the question: is Microsoft following in Palm's footsteps with its Windows Phone 7 Series strategy, which effectively scraps the old Windows Mobile 6.x code in favor of the Silverlight RIA-based architecture and Zune interface? In other words, just as PalmOS apps were useless to WebOS, will the same come true for .NET Windows Mobile developers?

"I have nothing against the Zune. I own one but it's not Windows Mobile and its navigation UI is not very flexible. On top of that, they choose to not support past apps, which once again I believe was a huge mistake for Palm," Nielsen notes.

"So like Palm, they have chosen to start over and play catch-up on third-party apps when they didn't really have to," said Nielsen. "You've alienated your past developers while hurting their customer-base which is your customer-base. In the meantime, you've positioned your new OS to 'wow' the home consumer and downplay your enterprise strengths. Microsoft, it's not too late to correct some of your decisions. Just look at Palm and see how it has worked for them."

Giovanni Gallucci, organizer of last year's Windows Mobile Developer, says that's not a fair comparison. "The PalmOS ecosystem was dying or dead," he said in an interview. "The Windows Mobile team learned by watching Palm and realized they have to get their code out there fast, early and into everybody's hands. Clearly Palm's approach that no one would get the SDK until after the device shipped was a strategy that failed."

Gallucci dug himself into a hole in early 2009 when he and others launched the Palm PreDevCamp effort. He shortly walked away from it last year after its apparent demise. It should also be noted that Apple wasn't quick to make its SDK available before the iPhone came out. However, this didn't hurt them as it did Palm.

"Microsoft is going to the opposite extreme saying 'we're going to give you the SDK well before we even call this an alpha,'" he said. "They are taking a risk, much more than any other company does in giving developers access to their code, long before it's fully baked. But it's a risk that's paid off for them in the last three decades."

What's your take? To learn more about Microsoft's new mobile strategy, see: Top 7 Windows Phone 7 Highlights from MIX10. Share your thoughts by droping me a line at

Posted by Jeffrey Schwartz on 03/23/2010 at 1:14 PM

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Reader Comments:

Tue, Apr 20, 2010 Rob Peck Tucson, AZ

Windows Mobile was a wonderful, robust phone OS with an outdated, non-finger-friendly, inelegant UI. I am very saddened and disheartened to see MS throw out the baby with the bathwater here. HTC and Samsung proved that you could put a fresh UI on top of the existing code and create a wonderful phone. From my perspective, MS seems determined to slavishly repeat Apple's mis-steps (no copy-and-paste, locked down UI, single app venue, etc.) rather than continue to build on their strengths (vibrant development community, incredible enterprise support, wide variety of devices, etc.). I have a lot of time and paid-for apps invested in WM over the years, but I suspect my next phone will be Android rather than WP7.

Fri, Mar 26, 2010 Den Kansas City, MO

My take on Windows Phone 7 Series is that it's a goofy name attached to a lovely UI and a half-baked OS.

In the first place, pieces are missing from the outset. For instance, where's cut-and-paste? And Flash support?

In the second place, what happens to apps that people have already purchased and want to run on the latest and greatest smartphone? Given the platform specs that WP7 will probably require, is it too much to ask for a VM to run the older apps on the new platform? There's been talk of virtualization in the smartphone space lately; this is a perfect opportunity to see if it would work.

Finally, why the focus on the consumer market going forward? Is this where Microsoft really wants to be? The Zune has not exactly been a resounding success, unlike the XBox 360, so the success of WP7 is far from guaranteed.

Also, is the UI going to be customizable? This is a rather trivial question, considered against the backdrop of the other issues with WP7, but something that some consumers probably would like to do. There's a vibrant community of theme designers and wallpaper sources for Windows Mobile; will such a community be there for WP7 as well?

Tue, Mar 23, 2010 Manish

Microsoft is trying to copy google and iphone. But they need to understand, circumstances are different. Here simple copy/ paste not work. they took so long time to come up with Win Phone 7 and that too with so many restrictions. I-phone is device maker not platform maker, so you need to give freedom to your OEM and developer community. they must think of backward compatibility.

Mon, Mar 22, 2010 Kerry Rees

It's sad to see Microsoft's mobile ambitions so badly managed and mishandled. Microsoft has killed its mobile enterprise market. It has alienated the few mobile developers it had. Windows Mobile fans are angry about the closed nature of Windows Phone 7 Series. Microsoft seems to be making decisions out of fear. WP7S is being rushed to market unfinished, with vital features such as copy & paste missing. A disastrous move about to happen. Microsoft should wait until WP7S is complete, but it is afraid to wait because its current Windows Mobile market share is in freefall. It's a rock and a hard place, but Microsoft is still better to wait rather than release a dysfunctional phone OS to market, and have it crash and burn in the first round.

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