RealTime IT News

Palm's Next OS Will Be New, But What is It?

Palm is staying mum about its impending new operating system, other than to note it will be talking about "newness" come the new year.

"We are not making any specific announcement on the new OS," a Palm (NASDAQ: PALM) spokesperson told InternetNews.com, adding, however, it does plan to make a presentation about Palm's "newness" at CES, the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas starting January 8.

The handset maker, which is struggling to fight its way back to the top of the smartphone heap, has sent out media invites for a presentation on its "newness" but refused further comment.

The news comes as Palm struggles in a competitive market and a dismal economy. While it reported better than expected revenues in the third quarter of $366.9 million, above analysts' estimates of $329.9 million, it also reported a net loss of $41.9 million.

Industry experts have repeatedly stated Palm needs to shore up its platform and features to keep pace with the Apple iPhone and Research in Motion's BlackBerry line.

During the year Palm debuted an unlocked Centro, new Google map applications, and two high-end smartphones, the Treo 800W and Treo Pro. The 800W debuted just weeks after the Apple iPhone the 3G.

In a Reuters article at the time Palm leaders dismissed the iPhone as a competitor and said the new Treo was aimed at grabbing marketshare from RIM.

Palm currently uses mobile platforms: it's own Palm OS and Windows Mobile. The Treo and Centro maker has been heralding a new OS all year, with CEO Ed Colligan stating during an earnings call that the platform is one of his three top priorities. Colligan had said earlier this year that Palm would push out its new OS by the end of 2008 and new devices in 2009.

Industry experts believe a new OS is necessary to help Palm become the smartphone player it was back in the 1990s.

Of critical importance

"A new OS is clearly very important to Palm. In fact, I would say it is critical," Jack Gold, principal analyst at J. Gold Associates, told InternetNews.com, noting that the Palm running today's handsets is at least three years old.

"Palm has fallen behind the market with its Palm OS-driven systems and needs a good kick to get market share back. It relies on Windows Mobile to fill in the gap, but that only takes them so far," said Gold.

While Gold hasn't been briefed on the upcoming OS, he said he has reason to believe it will be a Linux-based operating system.

That aspect, said Gold, could give Palm some leverage.

"In theory, they could incorporate Linux- based apps, but their user interface will be unique so they will have to modify what they get," he said, noting that some low-level Linux things (such as drivers and utilities) could be ported into the Palm OS and serve as a leverage point.

Yet a Linux system poses challenges as well.

"Palm faces the difficulty of providing an upgrade path for existing applications and it's not clear how backwards compatible the new system will be," said Gold.