The Palm that rocks the cradle

And we thought Rogers@Home was bad.

A fond goodbye and good luck to anyone who sends or receives messages via a Palm.com account. Their service provider, Palm, has announced it is cutting them off by early next year, part of a grand strategy that includes unplugging the MyPalm.com portal due to lack of advertising revenue.

These are dark days at the handheld firm. The company has already laid off a slew of its workers as part of the company’s division into a hardware and software unit and more are expected this week. The split into two separate companies — a move I advocated in an earlier editorial (“Palms Wide Shut”) also led to the departure of visionary Palm CEO Carl Yakowski.

In a move that should send shivers down the spine of customer relationship management experts everywhere, the closure of MyPalm.com will also mean anyone who has used the portal to store personal information like calendars, Date Book and Address Book will be vaporized. This certainly sends a strong message to Palm users, but not one they would need a personal digital assistant to understand: they, too will be the victims of the company’s financial misfortunes.

The decision would be less surprising were it not for the fanfare which heralded the launch of myPalm last year. I was at Comdex Fall 2000, walking the floor of the Las Vegas Convention Center, when a Palm rep handed me a sealed invitation to an after-hours press conference about a “very important announcement.” When I showed up, the floor had been shut down, and only those with the invitations were allowed access. The booth was swamped: people were camped out on the floor like it was some kind of sit-in, and the crowd spilled out well beyond the confines of the booth and into the aisles. There we heard Yakowski and Palm COO Barry Cottle explain the features that myPalm would offer, including a “free/busy” application that would allow users to compare calendars remotely and jointly schedule meetings. These looked like the kind of collaborative killer applications that could play an important role in the evolution of mobile computing. I remember Cottle’s quotable comment: “At one point our vision was to deliver a Palm to every hand,” he said. “Now we want to put the world in every Palm.” In that sense, I guess you could say this is the end of that world.

An odd little footnote is that it was never really myPalm.com but my.Palm.com. The real owner of myPalm.com is British consultant Dominic Hulewicz, who has defiantly held onto the rights while allowing Palm traffic to be redirected. “Before you accuse me of being a ‘cybersquatter,’ I would like to point out that I have owned the mypalm.com domain name since December 1999,” he writes in a notice on the site. “I use it every day for e-mail, and I do not wish to sell it!” The my.Palm.com site, on the other hand, is not nearly as candid. Its “important note” to its customers gives no real explanation for the decision, nor does it thank any of the existing customers for their patronage (it does mention that Palm VII and VIIx users who subscribe to Palm.Net will keep their e-mail).

Though the company plans to keep a separate myPalm.com portal to offer content to wireless devices, many users will probably consider their personal content — the kind that doesn’t carry much in the way of revenue-generating opportunities — more valuable. If content is indeed king, Palm just abdicated the throne.

sschick@plesman.com

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