Fwd: Palm, Access, Linux and Irrelevance

Matthew S. Hamrick mhamrick at cryptonomicon.net
Fri Apr 13 03:32:27 CEST 2007

Forgot to forward this to the lists...

Begin forwarded message:

> Subject: Palm, Access, Linux and Irrelevance
> Hey Brad...
> A friend forwarded me your "Opening up the Wireless Handset"  
> article, and I figured I have a few apropos comments.
> First... I've been "in the mobile value chain" for almost a decade,  
> working first for RSA and Certicom and later at Handspring,  
> PalmSource and consulting for "the usual suspects." I've been using  
> Unix since the early 80's and Linux since rev 0.91 of the kernel  
> (not that there's much knowledge from the 0.91 days that's useful  
> today.) I'm the Co-Founder of the Homebrew Mobile Phone Club [1]  
> and a participant on various OpenMoko [2] related projects. I am  
> also, as far as I know, the first person to recommend the concept  
> of the "complete open phone," [3] the idea that the market is best  
> served by a collection of open hardware specifications, open source  
> software and the ability to buy single-unit quantities of  
> everything you should need to build your own phone. (Though good  
> ideas seem to spring out of the woodwork, so I wouldn't be  
> surprised if someone else came up with the idea, too.)
> I guess what I wanted to say is... opening up the handset is about  
> more than deploying open source code (or even publishing hardware  
> reference designs.) It's about changing the way manufacturers,  
> marketers and solution providers interact with their customers. The  
> joy of the Treo (and earlier platforms from Microsoft and Psion)  
> was that individual users could make the decision what application  
> code they added to their devices. If you weren't happy with the  
> limited calendar that came with your Treo, you could buy or  
> download a replacement. If you worked in a vertical market, you  
> could add industry or corporation specific applications to your  
> mobile device that would (in theory) increase your personal  
> productivity. Or maybe it would allow you to implement a better  
> business process. The Springboard platform on the Visor extended  
> this concept to custom hardware; it's passing is partially what led  
> me to experiment with making my own "homebrew" mobile phone.
> The great joy of mobile Linux is not, as it's used by Access, Palm  
> and Motorola, as a "cheap" alternative for some other operating  
> environment. Anyone who's worked with mobile Linux knows that free  
> can often be quite costly. It's great benefit is that it's a non- 
> denominational "meeting place" for ideas about software. Like other  
> Unices, Linux implements Posix and exports useful abstractions for  
> programmers and administrators. Got an idea for a better calendar  
> app? Just write it. Worried about security on your wireless  
> network? Maybe that security agent software made for the desktop  
> could work on your mobile device? Now that we're starting to see  
> more mobile devices with USB host and Bluetooth, devices made from  
> these standards are easy to integrate into a mobile Linux solution.
> The great joy of Linux on mobile devices is not that it reduces  
> cost, but that it reduces risk.  There are countless ways the  
> development of a mobile solution can be brought to a screeching  
> halt. Experience has shown that we frequently don't know what the  
> major development problems are when we begin a product design. But  
> for my money, the wealth of tools available for Linux means with a  
> little creativity, you can hack your way to a solution easier than  
> had you started with WinCE or Symbian (or even PalmOS to a lesser  
> degree.)
> And the great thing about it is it's not owned by any one vendor.  
> To be sure there are many reasons why you might want to develop  
> with WinCE and Symbian (and PalmOS and iTRON and ... ) But the  
> future of Linux is not married to any one particular company. While  
> I love Platform Builder and Vis Dev Studio, I have noticed that  
> WinMobile 5.0 makes it easy to integrate with Microsoft-based  
> services (Windows Media, NTLM, etc.), but a pain in the keester if  
> you're trying to develop a system that uses open standards like  
> FLAC, Vorbis, Speex, etc. There's a perception that you don't have  
> these problems in Linux, and for the most part it's true.
> From my experience, though, neither Palm or Access (or Motorola or  
> Nokia) understand this. Well... okay... Nokia and Motorola are  
> starting to show signs of catching on. But Palm and Access seem to  
> be taking a closed approach to Linux. Palm has noted that it's not  
> going to be licensing (or presumably releasing) it's distro.  
> They're using Linux to provide a stable underpinning for their  
> Garnet emulator (or so it seems to me.) Access is trying to make  
> money selling middleware and applications for Linux. Well... more  
> power to 'em. With Access' Hiker Project and Nokia's Maemo/Hildon,  
> both are asking application developers to increase the risk of  
> their projects by requesting they expend effort to customize their  
> apps for their own commercial products.
> And then they wonder why people are spending a lot of effort to  
> deploy web-based apps that could, in theory, run on any device,  
> even a mobile browser. Hiker may die. Hildon may die. And it's my  
> sad experience to report that even the WinCE APIs vary over time.  
> But javascript, God help us, goes on. If you look at Access' price  
> sheet, this sorta explains why they're giving their middleware away  
> but selling their browser.
> But... If I'm an app developer, why should I customize my app to  
> use a device-specific UI API, when I could extend my app's life and  
> applicability by using the browser (any browser) as a renderer. And  
> I think this is the question that both Palm and Access have missed.  
> TrollTech's QT is quite refined, especially when compared to either  
> Hiker or Hildon. And their dual-licensing model benefits  
> experimenters.
> I keep thinking that TrollTech, Palm, Access (and to a lesser  
> degree, Microsoft) have missed an opportunity to move "up the value  
> chain." IBM did this in the 90's... it was painful, but ultimately  
> profitable. By shedding their low-margin businesses and  
> concentrating on providing business re-engineering consulting, IBM  
> was able to focus on high-value, high-margin activities for their  
> customers. IBM still sells hardware, to be sure, but it's all stuff  
> they can't buy cheaper from other people or it's high-performance  
> equipment (SP2s, zSeries, etc.) thats meets specific customer  
> requirements (online transaction processing, etc.)
> TrollTech and Access view themselves as software companies, and  
> that's the problem. Both organizations must overcome an  
> increasingly skeptical, cost-sensitive market. The cost of mass- 
> market devices is plummeting, and both companies need to hitch  
> their wagon to a couple more hit products if they are to survive.  
> Palm, Motorola and Nokia view themselves as hardware companies, and  
> despite several commercial and critical successes are struggling to  
> survive in a market with increasing pressure to reduce cost.
> In his presentation "Models of Software Acceptance : How Winners  
> Win," [4] Dick Gabriel discusses the utility of evolution in  
> software development. Or more specifically, he points out that  
> evolutionary theory credits the changing environment, and not the  
> mutating individual as the primary agent of natural selection. We  
> sometimes forget this. In the tech marketplace, products that can  
> be adapted to new, specific requirements are the ones that survive.  
> Companies that make these products survive to compete another day.  
> To the degree that we can predict the future needs of our  
> customers, we can build products that meet these needs. But  
> internal conflict occurs when we predict the utility of a product  
> that competes with our current cash cows. Gabriel points out the  
> biological equivalent of this effect; "only things that are  
> relatively worthless change rapidly and dramatically." Molecular  
> biology, it appears, prevents mutation in genes that encode  
> survival traits.
> Gabriel uses Geoffrey Moore's "Crossing the Chasm" [5] model  
> overlaid on evolutionary biology to analyze how innovation is  
> related to market acceptance. Within his evolutionary model,  
> Gabriel advises tech companies to develop inexpensive technology  
> that adequately meets an emerging market need. If we read  
> Anderson's "Long Tail," [6] we're likely to assume this means we  
> should go after niche markets.
> In "Sources of Innovation" and "Democratizing Innovation," [7] MIT  
> professor Eric von Hippel argues a similar point, but from the  
> perspective of the niche customer. In von Hippel's model, "lead  
> users" are individuals who are highly motivated to solve a business  
> problem, are not being serviced by existing suppliers and have the  
> ability to fabricate ad-hoc solutions. Companies who understand the  
> needs of lead users may make decisions informed by experiences of  
> real customers. Properly executed, companies use lead user studies  
> to discover what customers value and how their existing products or  
> services can be modified to efficiently meet the emerging markets  
> lead users represent.
> If we again apply Anderson's philosophy on the value of niche  
> markets, and everything we learned from Taiichi Ohno [8], the  
> future may be large "Just in Time" manufacturing centers capable of  
> selling 98% complete products into a constellation of marketing  
> companies, each specializing in understanding the values and needs  
> of different niches.
> Palm and Access are firmly focused on the international wireless  
> carrier market. And from their perspective, I wouldn't expect  
> anything else. It's a proven money-maker and a growth industry. But  
> they've both shown a bit of myopia when it comes to looking at the  
> "bigger picture." Google, Microsoft and Yahoo! have failed in voice  
> chat applications, and Vonage is certainly skirting the rocky  
> shoals of corporate insolvency. But Skype seems to be taking hold.  
> Backed up by eBay's financial resources and joined at the hip with  
> PayPal, they are starting to be a serious competitor. But Palm and  
> Access are too dependent on the carrier's good graces to be able to  
> work with Skype or any of the VoIP players. In short, they're  
> trying as hard as they can to design products that make it easy to  
> browse the web over WiFi, but difficult to integrate SIP/RTP VoIP  
> solutions.
> In the meantime, organizations like the Homebrew Mobile Phone Club  
> and the OpenMoko community are developing user interfaces,  
> applications, hardware designs and open source software to provide  
> "lead user" innovators with the tools they need to solve real world  
> business problems in a cost effective manner. Palm, Nokia and  
> Motorola appear to be competing to make the next Linux-based  
> Blackberry killer. Access is expanding the reach of its browser by  
> surrounding it with Linux middleware. Palm's competitive edge  
> against Nokia is it's installed base of PalmOS apps, and it's user  
> community. But the PalmOS heyday is long past, ask any PalmOS  
> developer. Nokia's been known to make mistakes, but should they  
> decide to move Linux into their mainstream products, they'll do so  
> as a market leader. By making the browser the center-piece of their  
> profitability smorgasbord, Access runs the risk of irrelevance  
> should a mobile version of Firefox ever deploy (or should Mark  
> Shuttleworth decide that he wants to make "Mobuntu".)
> I wish Palm and Access luck, but I can't help but think they're  
> jockeying for position on the hierarchy of irrelevance.
> -Cheers,
> -Matt H.
> References:
> 1. http://hbmobile.org/
> 2. http://openmoko.org/
> 3. http://www.oreillynet.com/pub/a/etel/2006/09/05/the-complete- 
> open-phone.html
> 4. http://www.dreamsongs.com/Files/AcceptanceModels.pdf
> 5. http://www.amazon.com/Crossing-Chasm-Marketing-High-Tech- 
> Mainstream/dp/0066620023
> 6. http://www.longtail.com/
> 7. http://web.mit.edu/evhippel/www/books.htm
> 8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kanban

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