RealTime IT News

PalmSource Sees Wireless for the Treo(s)

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Getting the Treo 600 into the hands of business users is job number one for PalmSource , the company said Wednesday.

While the converged phone/PDA is made by sister company palmOne , it runs the operating system made by PalmSource. The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based mobile software maker sees the enterprise market as the key to growth, with wireless delivery of applications to its converged devices.

In January, PalmSource launched an online store that lets wireless subscribers buy and download applications; the store offers close to 50 applications to date. PalmSource hopes that making those apps and lots more available through wireless network operators as well will create more demand for devices running its operating system.

The challenge for PalmSource, however, is that the Treo (originally made by Handspring) was targeted at the millions of people who haven't made the leap from telephony to wireless data, according to Palm founder, former Handspring exec and current PalmSource chairman Jeff Hawkins.

"We assumed PDA users would come along. They'd be the early adopters," he said. In the short term, with the Treo 600's street price of $500, it's mostly a gadget for business users.

In a question and answer session at PalmSource's developers' conference here, Hawkins acknowledged the barriers to widespread take-up of what he called "platform phones".

"To get beyond a few million [units]," he said, "you have to be closer to mainstream pricing."

Wireless network operator Sprint PCS has offered the Treo, as well as other converged devices, for some time. But they still remain a small percentage of phones on the network, according to Terry Yu, vice president of product marketing for Sprint. Letting users download applications over the air, rather than users having to synch the device with a desktop computer, is the key to making them more attractive to business users, he told internetnews.com.

"The next wave of enterprise computing is figuring out how to use mobility to increase the usefulness of applications," he said. "The result will be additional productivity and cost savings."

The Treo 600 is the first device on the Sprint network to allow wireless application downloading. To date, only Sprint's Business Connection wireless e-mail product, introduced three years ago, can be delivered wirelessly. Encouraging for PalmSource's master plan; palmOne said the Treo 600 is now available to T-Mobile USA customers starting this week.

To help garner more development on future Treo phones, the company is launching its Palm Powered Mobile World. The initiative is expected to act as a bridge between the approximately 275,000 independent software developers and the wireless network operators that can deliver their applications to end users -- and get them paid for.

Of course, both QUALCOMM's BREW platform and Sun Microsystems' J2ME allow platform phone users to buy and download applications over the air. Both are mobile software delivery infrastructures for network operators that let them sell downloadable apps to subscribers.

Hawkins said that BREW and Java weren't sophisticated enough for the applications available on the Palm OS.

"I'm trying to build fully functional personal computing products," he said. "We can always put BREW or Java on top of the native OS," he said. "But at the moment, I don't think I can build great products on it."

In fact, according to PalmSource vice president David Limp, U.S. wireless network operator Alltel recently announced it would deliver Palm-native apps to its subscribers using the BREW infrastructure. "We see both Java and QUALCOMM as key infrastructure partners," he told internetnews.com.

But Limp doesn't see other wireless enterprise software vendors, such as Salesforce.com or Siebel, as competitors. Some, such as San Francisco-based Good Technologies, Research in Motion (RIM) and IBM , are already partners. He said Palm Powered Mobile World would be happy to expedite certification for the major vendors' apps.

Working with operators is complex, PalmSource vice president Albert Chu told conference attendees. Each has a different infrastructure, different technical requirements, and a range of devices optimized for its network. Palm Powered Mobile World will create a certification program to assure operators that mobile applications have been tested for secure and crash-free delivery over the air. It will provide developers with technical specs for various operators and Palm devices, help market the apps, and act as liaison with operators.

To date, only Sprint has joined the program, announced at Comdex, but Chu said the company hopes to sign up more operators soon. He said PalmSource isn't looking for hundreds of network operators, just a dozen or so around the world.

Limp said Palm Powered Mobile World will act as an application aggregator, helping the many small but innovative Palm developers hook up with network operators. At the same time, the program will help PalmSource extend its reach.

"Our business model is to sell OS licenses," he said. But the addition of wireless connectivity to mobile devices has changed the landscape to include not only device licensees and end users, but also infrastructure providers and network operators. "Palm Powered Mobile World is all about expanding our influence," he said.