Symbol Bids Adieu To Palm, Start-up Seeks To Fill Void

In the latest blow to the Palm operating system, Symbol Technologies is now taking its last orders for devices based on the once popular platform.

November 9, 2006

5 Min Read
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In the latest blow to the Palm operating system, Symbol Technologies is taking its last orders for devices based on the once popular platform. The enterprise mobile computing vendor, which Motorola is acquiring for $3.9 billion, is pulling the plug on its last two Palm-based ruggedized handheld lines, the Symbol SPT1550 and SPT1800.

Symbol quietly began notifying its reseller partners a couple of months ago of its plans. The last ordered units will ship in January.

The move comes as many companies that had once standardized on the Palm OS for their enterprise handheld devices, such as Sears Roebuck and Co.--which deployed more than 15,000 Palm-based Symbol handhelds at the turn of the century -- move to Microsoft Windows-based devices.

As Windows-based devices gained momentum over the past several years, the future of the Palm OS became increasingly uncertain to many. The maker of the Palm OS, PalmSource, which was acquired by Japanese firm Access Co. last year, hasn't released a new version of the OS in nearly three years. Meanwhile, adding insult to injury, the largest licensee of the Palm operating system, Palm Inc., this year started shipping its first Windows Mobile-based devices, though it has not said it is abandoning the Palm platform.

Access will not release another version of the classic Palm OS after the current version, 5.4.9, otherwise known as "Garnet," but the company says its forthcoming Linux-based mobile platform, Access Linux Platform (ALP), will include a Palm OS compatability layer that will support many legacy Palm applications."There is no guarantee all apps will run, but with the tests we've done so far, most will run," says Didier Diaz, executive officer and vice president of strategic product marketing for Access.

The company plans to ship a prerelease version of ALP before the end of this year and a final version in the first half of 2007. The company will not say whether it has signed any hardware licensees yet for ALP. That includes Palm Inc., which originally developed the Palm OS and spun off PalmSource in 2003; some argue that may not have been best move for the platform.

Symbol says it made its decision to move away from the platform now based on Access' future roadmap, a shortage of key components in the supply chain for its existing Palm-based devices, and features in the Windows that appeal to enterprise IT buyers. Unfortunately, as is the case when any vendor end-of-lifes a product, some end users and partners will find themselves with the short end of the stick.

Symbol has sold about a half million to 1 million Palm-based rugged devices since it first adopted the Palm OS in the late '90s, mostly through the channel and into smaller businesses attracted by the less costly Palm OS-based devices. Symbol's devices ranged from about $400 to $700, which is cheap in comparison to many rugged handhelds on the market now.

But for partners, those devices meant much more in terms of overall systems integration and services revenues.Symbol is also the only major manufacturer that provides ruggedized handhelds on the Palm OS, which leaves those users and partners with little choice but to switch to Windows now.

NEXT: Start-up seeks to keep Palm aliveEnter Janam Technologies, a start-up founded by two former Symbol Technologies executives, Ron Goldman and Harry Lerner. The company, based in Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., this week announced it has signed a five-year agreement with Access to develop and sell Palm Garnet-based ruggedized handheld devices. Janam's first handhelds will be commercially available by the end of the year.

Key to the new devices was ensuring support for barcode-scanning applications written for older versions of the Palm OS, Lerner says. "We spent a lot of time making sure applications are going to port to our device perfectly," Lerner says.

The new devices also add several enhancements over existing Palm-based handhelds from Symbol, which are based on older versions of the OS.

Janam will launch two flavors of its handhelds: the XP30 (left), which has a QVGA color LCD; and the XP20 (right), which has a 160-by-160 monochrome display. The devices have a 266-MHz processor, compared with the 33-MHz processor in current devices. Memory is also increased to 32 MB SDRAM and 64 MB NAND. Other new features include Bluetooth connectivity, 2-D barcode scanning, a user-accessible mini SD card slot, both PDA- and numeric-style keypads, Wi-Fi protected access (WPA), and support for 802.11g.Partners who have tested out the new devices say they think the products will fill a market need.

"The Palm OS base is shrinking, but there definitely remains strong demand from customers who need an aggressive barcode scanner with a simple application at a low price point -- something that Palm OS excels at," says Brad Horn, Portable Technology Solutions, a provider of mobile barcode enabled data collection solutions. "These customers cannot afford and do not need the higher end features bundled in with the Windows Mobile and CE.Net Terminals. The Janam terminal is a great fit for these price sensitive customers."

"There is still a Palm market out there. We found some customers were pretty upset with the end-of-life with Symbol's program," says Tom Moxley, president of Next Level Solutions, in Scottsdale, Ariz. "This will give the Palm user a good window to convert so he can do it on his timetable not with his back to the wall."

There is another small provider of rugged Palm-based devices based out of New Zealand, called Aceeca, although its devices are based on an older version of the Palm OS.

Janam will sell its devices mainly through the channel, Lerner says. List pricing ranges from $995 to $1,295.Jeff Schwartz contributed to this article

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