Apple, Palm, Technology

What Is Palm Nova?

Tomorrow is being touted as Palm’s make-or-break moment. It’s poised to announce Nova, the company’s next operating system.

Despite being a former employee and knowing several people still at the company, I honestly no nothing about what Nova is or isn’t (that’s a good thing they haven’t been talking – secrecy in this case is good). I’ve been very down on Palm in the past and am still hesitant to think that they can rise from the ashes to relevance in light of competition from Apple and RIM. That said, I’ve been thinking about what Nova could be, and I want to throw my guess before the cat is out of the bag tomorrow.

Nova will be a new operating system that uses applications made with standard web development tools to access information on the device and from the Internet.

Software developers aren’t going to want to develop for yet another phone; they are busy making apps for iPhone and Blackberry. But, what if Nova software development isn’t aimed at traditional software developers but at traditional web developers? If developers could make native phone applications using Javascript, PHP, Ruby, Python, they might very interested in Nova.

I used to work at a company called DoDots, which made widgets (mini-browsers and micro-web content) years before Konfabulator, Dashboard Widgets, and Google Widgets became fashionable. Before that, I worked with Palm on the Palm VII, which used Web Clippings to break down web content into more manageable pieces for use on a handheld screen. What if Palm’s Nova is an operating system whose applications are written like standard web applications today? They could run on the device in disconnected mode, accessing information stored on the device in a MySQL or SQLite database, or access information on the web using the same techniques? A developer writing an application for the web could have an app that could conceivably also run on a Nova-powered phone.

Is this the fat middle of the market that Palm is saying they are targeting with their new OS and handheld device?

We’ll find out tomorrow!

Update January 8, 2008: webOS platform prediction was right!

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Palm

Palm Content and Access Reunion Party

As is traditional this time of year, the former gang from Palm’s Content and Access division got together for its annual holiday party. Big thanks go out to Fanny for continuing to round up the troops. This year, we had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory in Palo Alto. We had the pleasure of welcoming two former colleagues back to the Bay Area. Stanley has been in LA and London for the past several years, and Jon has been working in Manhattan until recently. I hadn’t seen either of them since my time at Palm ended way back in 2001! Everyone looks pretty much the same as they did back in 2000. Eight years, man, that was another tech bubble ago!

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iPhone, Journal, Newton, Software, Tech, Technology

Newtons and iPhones at Stanford

News that Stanford will be conducting a class on iPhone Development, taught by my friend Adam Nash brings back good memories of my time on the Farm.

I smiled when I read the press release from Stanford announcing the Stanford iApps Project.

A suite of five software applications developed by students is now being tested on campus. Two of them, for managing course registration and bills, are intended for students. The other three will allow access to Stanford’s searchable campus map, get team scores and schedules, and check listings in the university’s online directory, StanfordWho.

One of my first apps for the Apple Newton MessagePad was Stanford Map, a scrolling map of the university. I remember riding around campus and getting stopped by someone who wanted to get directions to a particular building. With my Newton in hand, I was able to show exactly where he needed to go. Bear in mind, this was 14 years ago!

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Apple, Journal, Technology

iPhone 3G Quick Thoughts

Apple’s genius move was not in lowering the price of the iPhone 3G to $199 and $299, it was in supercharging and transforming .Mac into MobileMe. Sure Apple is losing out on subscription revenue from the carriers, but they are potentially gaining much more with annual MobileMe subscriptions. I’ve been a .Mac user for a number of years right now; it was hard to justify to another person why .Mac was useful, but with MobileMe, I don’t see this being the case anymore.

Smart move, Apple!

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Journal, Newton, Technology

Australian Film Critic Uses Newton

Grant had a tweet pointing to an article on Australian film critic, Paul Byrnes, who was recently awarded the Pascall Prize for Critic of the Year. What’s cool about his story is that he writes all of his reviews on an Apple Newton MessagePad. Earlier in his career, he suffered a repetitive stress injury and could no longer type without pain.

And after an estimated 2000 reviews, all written in long-hand with a stylus on a paperback-sized Apple Newton, Byrnes last night won the Pascall Prize for Critic of the Year.

This morning, I also read a speculative article on AppleInsider predicting the return of an Apple PDA next year. The article was dubbed the Return of the Newton. I’ll believe that when I see it in person.

I wonder what Byrnes thinks about the iPhone and its multitouch display and soft keyboard. Australia isn’t on the short list of countries getting the iPhone anytime soon. Would a larger, slate or book sized Newton be his next purchase? Would RSI be reduced by using a soft keyboard? There should be a study on this!

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Journal, Palm, Technology

Palm Cancels the Foleo

One day after I get back from Burning Man, I hear that Palm has canceled the Foleo. Though the product hadn’t even shipped yet, it was in such a late stage of development. Palm made the right decision, but the announcement still comes as a shock to me. Very few people were going to buy the Foleo, and it’s better for Palm to kill the product before the market killed it. According to CEO Ed Colligan, the company found itself in a difficult position trying to support two platforms — three if you include the non-smartphone PDA handhelds they sell.

“In the course of the past several months, it has become clear that the right path for Palm is to offer a single, consistent user experience around this new platform design and a single focus for our platform development efforts. To that end, and after careful deliberation, I have decided to cancel the Foleo mobile companion product in its current configuration and focus all of our energies on delivering our next generation platform and the first smartphones that will bring this platform to market. We will, of course, continue to develop products in partnership with Microsoft on the Windows Mobile platform, but from our internal platform development perspective, we will focus on only one.”

The wording of the announcement is similar to the press release that Apple issued when the Newton was canceled back in 1998:

“This decision is consistent with our strategy to focus all of our software development resources on extending the Macintosh operating system,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s interim CEO. “To realize our ambitious plans we must focus all of our efforts in one direction.”

History may not repeat itself, however. Palm, in its various incarnations and spinoffs, has not done a good job of delivering anything but incremental product updates for several years now.

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iPhone, Journal, Newton

Happy Birthday to Newton

It’s hard to believe that fourteen years ago on August 3, 1993, Apple released the Newton MessagePad. I was one of its early adopters, purchasing it just before my freshman year at college. It was the device that got me hooked on mobile computing, and it paved the way for where I am professionally today.

Newton’s growth was stopped at four and a half years of age when the product was canceled in February, 1998. At the time, Apple was in dire straits, and Steve Jobs felt that a renewed focus on Mac OS meant side businesses like Newton had to go. We can only speculate what could have happen had Newton spun off as an independent company or if Apple had sold the technology. You can’t argue with the results of what happened to Apple in the ensuing years. The company has never been in a better position for success, thanks in large part to Mac OS X, the iPod and now the iPhone.

Still, Newtons are in use today, nine years after cancellation. Modern technologies like Bluetooth and WiFi are available for the Newton, and projects like DyneTK and Open Einstein will ensure that Newton technology lives on in devices beyond the aging MessagePad hardware. Who knows how long it will last? If Newton were someone with a terminal illness, I’m sure it would be grateful for every extra day it’s being used by people around the world. There’s nothing worse for a technology than for it to be discontinued, forgotten, and shoved into the dustbin of technology.

So, a toast today to the Newton! Happy 14th Birthday!

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