The company that once owned (and nearly reclaimed) its own operating system continues to devote great attention to software, and it has included some impressive applications for the aging Palm OS, now known as the "Access-Powered" platform. Among the sleekest are a mapping application takes advantage of Google's local data prowess and a TypePad client that provides the industry's best mobile blogging experience.
Such well-implemented functionality is bound appeal to consumers on the leading edge, but Palm will need to dilute its dogma if it is to swim beyond the smartphone lake into a broader ocean of what is becoming intelligent feature phones such as the RAZR-thin Cingular 3125 developed by HTC. Palm has not yet diversified its handset portfolio the way it did in the PDA market that it pioneered and still leads. However, if it's looking for an example of a company that recently broke with its own conventions, it can turn its attention northward toward Research in Motion.
Like Palm, RIM gradually evolved its flagship handset line over many years, adding multiple carrier support, larger screens, color, GPS, push-to-talk and other enterprise-focused enhancements. Its first foray into the consumer market, the 7100 series, narrowed down the basic BlackBerry proposition with a well-received keyboard compromise.
However, with the BlackBerry Pearl, RIM has slimmed down and stepped up, making great strides in industrial design, multimedia and a mini-trackball that succeeds the scroll wheel that has long been a BlackBerry staple. Perhaps even more importantly, the Pearl has transformed RIM's image and from a stodgy provider of enterprise messaging technology to one of hip consumer handsets, revitalizing the BlackBerry brand.
If RIM could do this, a more consumer-entrenched brand such as Palm should certainly be able to as well. Combining the design makeover of the Pearl with the software savvy of Palm could yield the biggest advance in smartphone design since the original Treo 600.
Ross Rubin is director of industry analysis for consumer technology at market research and analysis firm The NPD Group and a contributing editor for LAPTOP. Views expressed in Switched On are his own. Feedback is welcome at email@example.com.