Think Twice Before You Add Palm Phones to Your Fleet

Mobile management is more than just picking the lowest prices or the best handsets. Consider the case of Palm products.

The Palm Pre was an extraordinary smartphone. The Pre Plus is even better. On the surface, both are worthy executive level phones with a unique OS and look that combined functionality and style. The Palm Pixi is a fun little phone for basic tasks – not great for core business activities, but it looks like might be good as a pure perk. Right now, the Pre and Pixi are incredibly cheap, so wouldn’t it keep costs down to pick them?

Palm Pre Mobile Management

The Palm Pre is a bargain for consumers -- but not the best for business.

Well I’ve given it away in the article title, but the sad answer is “no.” Yes, the Palm Pre is an excellent phone that carriers are offering for nothing on selected plans, but Palm is ailing. Its stock plummeted 19% on Friday March 19th, and may be worthless soon. CNN Money quoted one analyst as saying Palm is in a “death spiral.” This matters to end users because if Palm falls apart, that means you’ll be left with no upgrades, up to date support or new applications – and that’s not where you want to be with a contract. That’s a serious mobile management consideration.

What happened? Blackberries were the original smartphones before there was even a smartphone category, and are still the go-to phone for business use. The iPhone is in a league of its own. It can be customized for virtually any task by loading the right Apps, though many people probably use it for style and fun, not business. A past pioneer in the dying PDA category, Palm was ideally positioned to enter the smartphone category that replaced PDAs. Despite a few hiccups in the hardware and a foolish war with Apple over iTunes synching, the Pre looked ready to make Palm a third big player, bridging the gap between the too-serious Blackberry and the style-fixated iPhone.

Then Android hit. Palm couldn’t compete with an open OS that might not have been innovative, but was cheap to implement on a variety of handsets in all price categories, right up to the Droid, (Milestone in Canada) a phone obviously competing for the over $100 digital assistant niche. Android might be a poor fit for some handsets, but it will always cost less to implement, and the wave of Android phones creates a situation where once users will become familiar with the OS on one phone they’ll be comfortable with any handset that has an Android installation.

Palm’s tried to move forward with gaming and rich media applications in the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus, but even if they save themselves, they’re doing it by attacking a niche with little relevance to business users. Either way, Palm phones aren’t the right choice for your company’s mobile fleet, no matter how far their prices drop. Good mobile management thinks about your interests across a phone’s entire lifecycle – not just at the point of purchase.

The Palm Pre at Bell: Can It Take a Bite Out of the iPhone in Canada?

After debuting June 6th, 2009 in the US, anticipation for the Palm Pre in Canada has slowly built, but it’s still a modest level interest – nothing like the frenzy that accompanied the iPhone’s arrival. Palm has a lot riding on the Pre; the company lost ground when PDAs effectively went extinct in favor of smartphones, so the Pre is a last ditch grasp at relevancy. Early indications are that it’s a good phone – maybe even a great one – but in many ways it’s adding its own spin to features that are now so heavily identified with the iPhone that looking at a Pre’s touchscreen is almost an ad for the competition.

Nevertheless, business users who focus on function over form have been slower to adopt the iPhone, particularly in Canada, where Rogers’ punishing contract terms make it hard to justify within a company’s telecom expense management regime. Still, there’s a widespread desire for a “next level” phone that’s a cost-effective business tool and after the spotty performance of the Blackberry Storm (which some attribute to suboptimal touchscreen features) there’s still room for a phone to fill that gap.

Basically, it’s all in Bell Mobility’s hands. Canadians want an iPhone/Rogers competitor with a comparable product, but better plans. On the other hand, there are plenty of Canadian iPhone users despite the Rogers contract, and this may tempt Bell to provide less attractive, expensive cell phone plans. If the Pre comes with flexible, competitive pricing it could become a third pillar between the staid functionality of RIM Blackberries and the trendy but extravagant iPhone. If Bell just exploits contracts and SIM locking to the hilt, then it’ll be another also-ran in a smartphone race dominated by two giants.