Today, Palm (NASDAQ:PALM) and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) have done what many in the industry would deem previously unthinkable by joining forces in the mobile phone arena.
Since its plateau in the mid-1990’s Palm has been playing catch up with Microsoft’s mobile operating systems. “Where Microsoft really has everyone else beat is their focus on the enterprise,” said Jon Rubinstein, Palm chairman and chief executive officer. “That’s a space that will be hard to unseat.” But Palm hasn’t been doing so well in either the consumer or enterprise arena. “We’ve had a hard upward battle, but with WebOS we had an ace up our sleeve, one we couldn’t talk about until now,” said Katie Mitic, senior vice president, Product Marketing, Palm, Inc. “What we had was a back room partnership with Microsoft.”
When the iPhone made its debut, followed by Android, the writing was on the wall for the aging Windows Mobile OS. “People were impressed by glitz and glamor, and really got distracted from the core of what Windows Mobile was: an extension of your office right there in your hand,” said Joe Belfiore, corporate vice president and director of Windows Phone Program Management. “What we missed was the user experience. People want their phone to look and feel smooth, personal. It’s an extension of who they are. That’s where our involvement with Palm came into play.”
Palm, as it turns out, had a great idea for a new UI which they called WebOS, but they didn’t have the development muscle to bring it to fruition. That’s where Microsoft came in.
Leveraging the not-yet-announced features of Silverlight 4 designers at Palm were able to work with developers at Microsoft to build an entirely new OS based on Windows CE running what was then called “Silverlight Mobile”.
“It was great! We could mock-up designs in Silverlight and deliver the project to the guys over in Redmond and they’d wire it all up. It just worked,” said a Palm designer on the condition of anonymity. “It was real hard not to talk, but we’ve done a good job at keeping this under wraps.”
Now with Palm stocks falling Microsoft saw an opportunity to help buoy up a partner, and help strengthen their slipping foothold in the mobile market. Over a period of several weeks Microsoft acquired a 51% controlling share in Palm.
“With Windows Phone 7 Series we’ll basically have two platforms, Standard Edition which will ship with the Metro OS that we really showed off at MIX, and Ultimate Edition which will default to the WebOS UI, but will let users select Metro or another UI as an option,” said Scott Guthrie, Corporate Vice President, .NET Developer Platform, Microsoft. “Since all the apps are built using
Silverlight, they will naturally and automatically be formatted using the control styles that are defined in the UI schema.”
The Microsoft/Palm deal has the potential to shake up the mobile OS market. While everyone was waiting for Windows Phone 7 Series to debut, Palm was quietly rolling out a test-bed of well-received phones and providing invaluable feedback for improvements both to the kernel and the framework upon which Windows Phone 7 would eventually be built.