April 27, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
Is the Palm OS missing the multimedia boat?
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It's been two years since the release of the last major upgrade to the Palm operating system for mobile devices, not counting the upgrade that never appeared in public.
With a brand-new version of the pioneer mobile OS not expected to appear for at least another year, some larger developers of mobile applications are looking elsewhere when launching their new multimedia applications.
Windows Mobile and Symbian are emerging as the operating systems of choice as large companies bring multimedia applications down to phones and handhelds. PalmSource, the developer of the Palm OS, can still count on thousands of loyal developers to create applications for the platform, but companies like Sling Media, Google and TiVo have held back their initial support for the Palm OS in favor of Windows or Java-based applications despite Palm's heft in the U.S. market.
In 2005, Palm OS-based devices accounted for 31 percent of the U.S. market for converged devices that can do both voice and data, according to IDC. Windows Mobile-based converged devices captured about 10 percent of that market. However, Windows Mobile held 6 percent of the worldwide market, while Palm OS captured only 4 percent.
"The Palm OS was not optimized for video and multimedia. But it has a very strong following, and it's somewhat early to tell if Windows Mobile's support for multimedia is enough to entice traditional Palm users to jump ship," said Tim Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies. "But they are going to have to continue evolving the Palm platform to be more multimedia-friendly" or risk such a defection, he said.
PalmSource's reliance on third parties to implement many multimedia features appears to be a factor behind the decisions of developers. But the Palm OS has also failed to keep up with the competition. New smart phones and wireless PDAs on fast networks such as Verizon's EV-DO network use Windows Mobile, and the Symbian operating system is very popular with European users of 3G networks.
As a result, some newer mobile applications that require bandwidth or Java support are not making their debut on Palm devices. Those companies eventually plan to support Palm, but they've launched their applications on other platforms.
Sling Media chose to support Windows Mobile when it extended the capabilities of the Slingbox to handheld devices, in part because the application requires a certain amount of network bandwidth to stream video, and there aren't any Palm OS devices available on fast networks such as Verizon's EV-DO network as of today, said Brian Jaquet, a Sling Media spokesman. Palm OS PDAs like the Tungsten E2 and TX have built-in Wi-Fi, but the Treos lack that feature.
"Windows Mobile has a lot of momentum, with the 3G compatibility and devices that have both 3G and Wi-Fi," Jaquet said. In addition, Sling Media was already working very closely with Microsoft in developing its applications for Windows PCs, so it was already familiar with the Windows Media Player, he said.
Google chose to develop its Google Maps for Mobile application in Java so it could run on as many devices as possible, said Deep Nishar, director of product management for Google. But Palm OS doesn't come with a Java virtual machine; users who want to run Java applications have to download IBM's WebSphere Everyplace Micro Environment from Palm's site and install it on their devices.
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