Palm and Microsoft: Once rivals, now partners

TORONTO – Palm said that with the launch of its latest smart phone last month, the Treo 700wx, it wants to provide business customers with more choice: either the Palm or Microsoft OS.

Previous Palm devices, such as the Treo 650 smart phone, run on the Palm OS alone. Palm said it will also launch three new products before the end of the year – and it will launch with multiple carriers in Canada. While the Treo 700wx is now available on Bell’s high-speed mobile network, 1xEv-DO, Telus should be on board within the next couple of weeks. Palm also has plans to bridge the gap between

business and consumer products, said Michael Moskowitz, vice-president of Americas International with Palm Inc.

“Differentiation is absolutely key,” he said. “The next step for us is expanding the addressable market.” Palm will attempt to replicate its business strategy outside of the U.S. and partner with global operators, including Bell and Telus in Canada. Where Microsoft was once a competitor, it’s now a partner.

Canada is one of the fastest-growing markets for converged mobile devices, said Moskowitz, and in 2007 they will outpace the sale of handsets. Palm expects 25 per cent growth in Canada over the next five years for converged mobile devices. “We expect this market to accelerate following this launch,” he said.

Faster networks, such as 1xEv-DO, are driving this technology. There are also 130 million Microsoft Exchange users around the world, and the Treo 700wx will provides access to all Microsoft applications, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint – with no middleware component involved. Since only 10 per cent of those users access e-mail wirelessly, said Moskowitz, the addressable market is the other 90 per cent of those users.

Canada is seeing some its lowest unemployment rates, as well as a strengthening Canadian dollar and a disproportionate number of employees approaching retirement. The work world is changing, and employees need to access back-end infrastructure on mobile devices, said Phil Sorgen, president of Microsoft Canada.

“It starts with software that is familiar to use,” he said. Microsoft’s mobile platform is also open to OEMs; today, there are more than 18,000 applications available for Windows Mobile 5.0. Microsoft is evolving that platform, and this is where a partnership with its former competitor comes in. The two companies, as former rivals, pushed each other to innovate. “We’re still doing it,” said Sorgen, “but in a partnership.”

This changing environment means there will be a lot of losers, said Peter Skillman, Palm’s senior director of new product development. Carriers face a significant challenge as they try to amortize networks, he said, and subscriber growth is slowing. Users haven’t taken advantage of their networks, but they also haven’t had easy access to those networks. There’s also an incredible learning curve to get users to learn new technology. “We need to make it accessible so people can get to this,” said Skillman. “Product returns are a significant part of overall business loss incurred.”

Palm’s Butler service is designed to encourage users to call a person for support. And this, he said, can significantly reduce returns. But there’s still a need to convince carrier partners that this is a good idea, which is why Butler is not available in this region yet. “Driving accessibility promotes data use and carrier revenues,” he said.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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