As Palm had previously warned, its sales figures released last week were not as high as the company had hoped. Palm's sales figures have declined by 29 percent compared to the same time last year, despite producing WebOS, a new and well received operating system, and two new WebOS devices, the Palm Pre and Pixi. To explain its shortcomings, the company blamed poor sales on marketing.
That may be a valid complaint, but they don't do much to solve Palm's most pressing needs. The company needs to sell its current inventory of WebOS devices, and get back in the smartphone game by improving on its current handsets. Of course, another possible solution is to give up on smartphones completely and return to its PDA roots with a tablet, but that's a big gamble to take. The fact is, Palm is a smartphone producer, and instead of taking a risk on an unproven market like tablets, the company needs to spend some time thinking about how to revive its smartphone devices. Here are five suggestions how Palm could do just that.
Find Your Auteur(s)
Whenever I think of Palm's position right now, I am reminded of Apple's predicament in the mid-1990s before Steve Jobs took back control of the company he founded. After Jobs was back in charge, it still took about seven years before Apple's stock began its upward climb to the $200+ plus levels it's at today. But the slow, steady work that put it over the top was releasing great products.
This success was a result of the collaboration between Jobs and Apple's chief designer Jony Ive, and began with the release of the iMac in 1998. Over time the pair overhauled Apple's computer products and the future of the company in the process, with Jobs taking on the public persona as Apple's auteur, the single artistic visionary behind every product Apple produces.
Palm needs a single driving force like Jobs to bring itself from the brink. One person, or perhaps two, who can hold almost tyrannical control over Palm's design team and push them to create something truly remarkable. Perhaps that person is Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein, perhaps it isn't. But somebody needs to take control and get this company on the right track.
Pick Your Apps
A lot of critics and pundits are saying it's the lack of apps that are killing Palm. While there are tens of thousands of apps for the iPhone and Google Android devices, Palm is lagging far behind this number. Digg founder Kevin Rose issued a YouTube post on Friday saying that for a smartphone to be popular today it has to have "the killer, awesome applications" that other devices have.
I'm not so sure Palm's application library is that horrible, since they have many big-name games, social networking applications, and other popular mobile programs. However, Palm should take a look at what's out there for the iPhone and Android, and find the most important applications that are missing from Palm's app catalog. Then Palm should approach the developers of those applications, and entice them to develop for the WebOS platform. Maybe the developers could be offered better licensing deals or simply give them development support to port those applications over to WebOS as quickly as possible. Palm can't woo every application developer out there, so it has to choose wisely.
The company may also want to take a look at its WebOS SDK and make it more accessible to developers, as the blog Touch Reviews recently argued.
Marketing and Community
Palm has said it needs to focus on improving its marketing to overcome the lagging popularity of the Pre and Pixi. That is absolutely true, but the company also needs to leverage the help of its community of users to build up its user base. As with any technology company, some ardent Palm fans out there love whatever the company produces. Palm needs to reconnect with these people.
Before the Pre launched in June 2009, the company had some good ideas to encourage user adoption. It did some guerilla marketing that was picked up by technology blogs, and stirred up a good amount of interest in the device because of the new WebOS platform.
Palm also had an interesting concept with its Real Reviewer programme. The idea was to put Palm devices in the hands of real people for free for six months. The only requirement was that you had to post about your device on the social networks you frequented and maybe write an occasional blog post for Palm.
I'm not sure if the FCC's new blogger disclosure rules spooked Palm or not, but whatever happened to the Real Reviewer programme? If you do a quick search on the Palm blog or type Real Reviewer into Google, you get back information and blogs from when the program was announced but almost nothing else.
The Real Reviewer program could have been a golden opportunity to seed WebOS devices, and encourage people to share their thoughts about them with the world. Sure, these bloggers would have had to disclose that they were getting a Palm device for free, but so what? I think it would have been worth it.
Reach for the Stars
Palm has reportedly stopped production of Palm Pre and Pixi devices, because it has to unload a lot of unsold product, according to Information Week. Perhaps a new Palm marketing push will help the company get these devices in the hands of users, but that's not going to be enough. What the company really needs is a new Palm Pre, because the Palm Pre Plus update obviously wasn't good enough.
The Pre is a good device, and PCWorld recently ranked it as one of the top 10 smartphones available today. But complaints remain about Palm's marquee device that still aren't solved, such as the Pre needing a bigger screen size, that it feels too flimsy and almost breakable, and that the physical keyboard was not designed well. Now is the time for Palm to solve these problems and create the killer device that the Pre was supposed to be. Of course, to do that, Palm needs one last thing...
The company reportedly has very little cash on hand, according to CNN Money. So before Palm can act on any of the above suggestions, it needs to find investors, and fast. If Palm can't get a fresh supply of money coming in then it really might be too late for the original PDA maker to make a comeback.