Palm rebrands to avoid competitive squeeze

Palm is changing its product branding to respond more directly to the different needs of IT managers versus retail shoppers.

The company Monday said it would group high-end devices and software under the brand name Tungsten,

while consumer devices would fall under the Zire brand. Palm officials said competitive pressures and a higher concentration on enterprise sales created the need for a more targeted product strategy.

Ken Wirt, Palm’s senior vice-president of product and marketing management, said the company’s market research showed IT managers liked the ease of use of Palm products, but they wanted more.

“”They wanted manageability and security, power and (to show that we) were serious about the enterprise,”” he said. “”For businesses, they’re not so much interested in point products as they are solutions to their business problems.””

Tungsten, which refers to the metal which has the highest melting point, lowest vapor pressure and highest strength of any metal, is the filament that goes in light bulbs, which Wirt called a universal symbol of innovations. The company tried out 17 different brands with 12 focus groups, but IT managers identified with Tungsten, Wirt said. “”One IT manager said, ‘Tungsten is something that keeps the lights on.'””

The Tungsten brand includes to small red bars that sit over top of the letter “”T,”” an equal sign that is supposed to represent the way Tungsten hardware and software will complete enterprise solutions.

Evans Research Corp. analyst Albert Daoust said the Palm OS segment of the market saw 29 per cent growth in the second quarter compared to the same period a year ago, a sign Palm has the potential to make gains on its competitors.

“”I would think there are some very good possibilities for this, particularly now that you can do your PowerPoint presentations and slides off (a Palm),”” he said, but short-term spending isn’t strong. “”This year is going to be tough.””

The first product under the brand is not a device but software. The Tungsten Mobile Information Solution, a combination of server and client, will provide wireless access and notification for corporate e-mail and groupware applications for end users. For IT managers, Palm said, the software would provide a solution that could be centrally managed, could be integrated easily into their infrastructure and is secure.

The client side of the software will service the Palm i705 handheld as well as the m500 series. The server software will run on Windows NT, Windows 2000 and for the first time, Solaris. E-mail system support includes Exchange, Lotus Domino and IMAP4, providing access to groupware data as well. An enterprise services portal will allow IT manager to control registration and support of the devices while provisioning the devices en masse. Enterprises will be able to offer individual or group billing, the company said.

“”It provides enterprise-class security, it provides centralized control and management of the wireless accounts. It also provides a solution that’s flexible enough to integrate into their existing infrastructures — all the requirements that IT managers told us they have for that product,”” Wirt said.

Daoust said companies like Sony have encroached on Palm’s strength in retail, which may be where its high-end users may continue to go.

“”Some of the corporate stuff is going through the retail channel, so it’s hard to identify a corporate market in this,”” he said. “”Future Shop and a few of the retail accounts would like to keep that corporate business.”” Palm said both Tungsten and Zire devices would be released this fall.

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