The return of…Palm?

Andrew Orlowski at The Register:

Of all the intellectual property rights on which our future prosperity depends, perhaps trademarks are the most undervalued. The deep emotional power of a brand endures, long after its parent has expired.

Don’t believe me? Well, Palm is coming back. Yes, Palm.

This sounds like a Palm-in-name-only deal where the 2000s era name will be affixed to an Android phone for…nostalgia seekers? Seems odd to me.

Apple’s Newton, 20 years on

Wired’s Matt Honan takes an interesting look back at the first PDA:

Newton was conceived on an airplane. That’s where Michael Tchao pitched the idea to Apple’s CEO, John Sculley, in early 1991. The company would announce it the following year, and the first product in the Newton Line, the MessagePad went on sale twenty years ago this week in August of 1993. It was Apple’s handheld PDA–a term Apple coined to describe it. By modern standards, it was pretty basic. It could take notes, store contacts, and manage calendars. You could use it to send a fax. It had a stylus, and could even translate handwriting into text. Well, sort of. At the time, this was highly ambitious. Handheld computers were still largely the stuff of science fiction.

It’s fascinating that Apple (and later Palm) thought that handwriting recognition should be the default method of input instead of an onscreen keyboard, even though people had been using keyboards for decades to write words faster.  Palm’s Graffiti shorthand language went so far as to make you learn a whole new way to handwrite letters.  Crazy.

WWDC 2013

After half a year of almost total radio silence, Apple came out swinging this week with a two hour keynote that had a lot to prove.  The bullet point recaps are everywhere online, so instead let’s look at a few major themes from the presentation.

Design

Mobile and desktop technology have evolved in the mainstream to the point where the term “fashion” can be used with a straight face.  Apple’s message this week was that the current version of iOS looks dated, inconsistent and, well, out of fashion.  What’s interesting here is that Apple also seem to acknowledge that they may not always be the trendsetter in this regard.  There’s a lot of the Google+ aesthetic throughout the new mobile OS, and certain navigation elements have a Windows Phone feel to it.  Functionally iOS 7 borrows some tricks from all the competitors (not to mention iPhone jailbreak hacks and WebOS) and tries to refine and redefine them into a cohesive experience.  It will be interesting to see how this new iOS evolves by the time it ships.

On the hardware side, Apple released the long awaited Mac Pro.  Say what you will about its lack of expandability or the trash can/R2-D2/Pringles can look- this machine is unlike anything anyone else has ever released.  It represents everything Apple stands for- it’s bolder in design than the 2000 Cube as it breaks with the past more than the original 1998 iMac.  This is a machine that virtually anyone would recognize from 20 yards away.

Secrecy

Seriously, how did Apple manage to keep the lid on the Mac Pro considering how long it’s been in development?  Last year Tim Cook claimed that Apple was going to “double down” on secrecy, and it looks like he was successful in that regard.  Across the board Apple was able to keep a lid on things like no keynote since the original iPhone.

Apple after Jobs

Not to dwell too much on the Mac Pro, but it struck me that this could very well be the first major piece of new hardware to emerge in an Apple after Jobs.  It’s possible that the iPad mini beat it to the punch, but this is more than just a shrunken-down version of an existing product.  If anyone was wondering whether Apple still had the ability to push the norms than this box puts that to rest.

In many ways I feel like this was truly the first post-Jobs keynote, even though technically it was not.  There was a confidence in the presenters that seemed to stem from new ideas and new creations, ones that originated after the company’s founder was gone.

Tim Cook

Speaking of confidence, Tim Cook has come into his own as Apple’s leading persona to the world.  I think back to the iPhone event in the fall of 2011, just before Jobs died.  I thought his performance was admirable under the circumstances, but it took him a while to really own it the way he did this past Monday- he was comfortable in the role and you could tell he was ready to swing back at the “Apple has lost its mojo” press stories swirling around his company.

Cook has also forged a new path that his predecessor might have disagreed with.  The firing of Scott Forstall and promoting Jony Ive to head up both software and hardware design is a clear break from the past.  Forstall was a brilliant but caustic personality that Jobs admired, and he was a strong proponent of the skeuomorphic touches of green felt and leather stitching that have been scrubbed from the new versions of OS X and iOS 7.

 

Apple has kicked off the second half of 2013 with what looks like an accelerated schedule of new releases and updates across most of their major projects, both hardware and software.  But perhaps more importantly we are starting to see signs of Apple transitioning into a post Steve Jobs existence.

The last piece of the puzzle

If any company out there has what it takes to challenge Apple in the tablet space, it’s Amazon.  They have the storefront and the loyal customer base, and now they have a color touchscreen tablet that has rocketed to the top of their sales chart.  And it’s not even available until mid November.

The one quirk is that the new Kindle Fire runs on an old version of Google’s Android OS, so Amazon lacks the true vertical integration that Apple enjoys with the iPad.  That could all be changing if Amazon buys Palm from HP.  VentureBeat reports:

A well-placed source tells us that HP is currently looking to rid itself of Palm as soon as possible, and that Amazon is the closest to finalizing the deal, among a handful of contenders.

Indeed, after yesterday’s announcement of Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet, no other company seems as fitting a home for Palm and its webOS software. It’s worth noting that former Palm CEO Jon Rubinstein, who now holds a vague “product innovation” role at HP’s Personal Services Group, joined Amazon’s board late last year.

If this came to pass the implications would be huge.  Palm’s WebOS has received high marks from day one, but a beleagured Palm and a bumbling HP almost drove it straight into the ground.  Considering the amount of polish Amazon seems to have applied to the Kindle Fire running on someone else’s operating system, imagine what a showcase they could make out of WebOS.

Another day, another HP CEO

The evidence grows that Meg Whitman, former eBay CEO and California gubernatorial candidate, will be named the new HP CEO.  The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

Whitman’s appointment would be an embarrassing end to Leo Apotheker’s 11-month stint as HP’s CEO. It would be the second time in two years Apotheker has been forced out of a top technology job. He resigned from German business software maker SAP AG last year, after less than a year as CEO.

I hear Touchpads make fabulous parting gifts.

UPDATE: It’s a done deal.

Will HTC buy their own mobile OS?

Stan Schroeder reports for Mashable:

While such a purchase is far from a done deal, the fact that HTC is even considering it is telling. Nokia has close ties with Microsoft and its WP7 platform; HP folded its webOS business, and Google recently purchased Motorola Mobility. This leaves HTC — which has grown to be one of the biggest phone manufacturers in the world — exposed and dependent on two mobile operating systems whose owners’ priorities lie elsewhere.

It seems that all the major players are scrambling for some Apple-style semblance of vertical integration (except for HP, who is bowing out before even getting started).  HTC finds itself in a tough spot as a technical middleman.  It’s becoming increasingly obvious that the Wintel business model from the 90s (create the hardware, license the OS) is essentially dead.  Back then, it was easy: go with the OS used by the majority of the world.  That’s no longer an option, considering iOS is proprietary and closed and Android is literally a free-for-all, with the added kick of Google giving priority treatment to its new soon-to-be hardware arm at Motorola Mobility.

At least the Touchpad has company

PCWorld’s Harry McCracken takes a look at 10 of the shortest-lived tech products in recent history:

For this list, I considered only products that were on the market for less than a year, or which never quite made it to consumers, period. Every item that made it was from a large company that should have known better. And while they all share the indignity of a short, embarrassing life, they represent multiple types of failure. (Some of them should never have left the drawing boards in the first place; others could have been great if they’d been given more time to succeed.)