Palm is in trouble – and so will Nokia be if it can’t catch Apple in the basic desirability test, says Tom Jowitt.
Two differing facets of the hugely competitive mobile phone sector are on display this week after reports emerged that smartphone maker Palm is up for sale, despite it now fielding a decent portfolio of handsets.
Meanwhile Nokia continues to flout its dominance of the mobile industry with the introduction of three new handsets, with a social networking slant.
Palm – The Nearly Man Of the Mobile Space
Founded in 1992, Palm is something of a veteran, but the company struggled to made a significant impact on the mobile phone space, in the way that Apple did when it introduced the iPhone back in 2007.
Phones are a brutal market, and manufacturers are learning painful lessons, one of the most important of which is the need to make their handsets actually desirable. Apple has succeeded. Motorola, by contrast, thought it had it cracked when its Razr handset was selling like hotcakes, but it failed to deliver a worthy successor and uncertainty remains over the future of its handset division.
Yet no one can accuse Palm of not being active enough.
It introduced a new mobile operating system, WebOS last year – but it was not the only one. Samsung gave us Bada, and Google has Android, to name but a few. And of course, the world’s most popular mobile operating system, Symbian, is now fully open source.
Palm also introduced the Pre handset, which gained very good reviews on launch day and enjoyed initial good sales (as did its successor the Palm Pixi), so its future should have been rosy. Unfortunately, Palm admitted earlier this year that sales had slowed and indeed that more than half its phones were still in its warehouses.
So who is in the frame to buy Palm? And why would they bother? Well rival companies HTC and Lenovo have been suggested as possible candidates, and this would make a certain amount of sense, as the Palm name does have instant recognition and some credibility. But whether this will be enough to tempt a suitor to part with his hard earned cash, remains to be seen.
Nokia Gets All Social
Meanwhile at the other end of the scale Nokia has introduced three new handsets geared for social networking. The G3, C6 and E5 run Symbian, but not the new open source version, Symbian ^3.
These handsets are something of a predictable play for the mobile giant, as it seeks to meet satisfy the online experience of its target audience. But many will ask, where is Nokia’s iPhone killer? Some hoped Nokia’s teaser announcement on Monday would prelude a worth rival to Apple’s handset, as there is no escaping that its current flagship models, the N97 and before that the N96, were something of a disappointment in this regard.
Nokia has played it safe for too long now. It stood by when it watched Apple capture a massive customer base for digital music players with its iPod device from 2001 onwards. Sure, it shipped phones at that time that could play music, but the memory cards that shipped with these devices (32MB, 64MB etc) were far too small to disrupt the Apple juggernaut.
And then Apple added insult to injury and wowed users with the introduction of its iPhone. That was back in 2007 and what has Nokia responded with since then, to truly rival the Apple handset?
Nokia must realise that there is a portion of customers out there who have remained loyal “Nokia users” throughout their mobile life, and have avoided switching to handsets from rival makers. These users would rather stick with a handset maker they know and trust. But they are being sorely tempted by devices like the iPhone.
Nokia had better realise it cannot rely on their steadfast loyalty for much longer. And they had better realise that soon.