Saturday, 24 December 2005

Is it safe to buy Palm or RIM devices?

The question was familiar, but it was the first time a reporter had asked me to go on the record since I left PalmSource. She said, "Given all the uncertainty about Palm, should people avoid buying their products?"

I asked what uncertainty she meant.

"You know, all the uncertainty about what they're doing with Microsoft. It's the same as RIM Blackberry, where people say you shouldn't buy because of the uncertainty about their patents."

I'm glad to say that my answer today is the same as it was back when I worked at PalmSource: buy what you need and don't worry about what people say.

If you look for uncertainty, you can find it for any mobile product on the market. Symbian's losing licensees. Microsoft has lost licensees (and missed a few shipment deadlines). Both platforms are extremely dependant on single hardware companies -- Nokia for Symbian and HTC for Microsoft. And for every device there's always a new model or a new software version about to obsolete the current stuff.

Obviously, if a company's on the verge of bankruptcy, you should be careful. But Palm is profitable, and they know how loyal Palm OS users are. They have a huge financial incentive to keep serving those users as long as the users want to buy.

RIM is a slightly more intimidating issue because you never know what the government might do. One week RIM's on the brink of ruin, the next week the patent office is about to destroy the whole case against them. This sort of unpredictability doesn't encourage innovation and investment, which I thought was the whole point of the patent system. What we have now seems more like playing the lottery. But I don't think it's going to lead to a shutdown of RIM's system. If NTP destroys RIM's business, there won't be anything left to squeeze money out of. I think what you're seeing now is brinksmanship negotiation from both sides. It's entertaining, but not something you should base a purchase decision on.

Yes, you can get yourself worked up about risk on a particular platform if you want to. But that level of risk is miniscule compared to the near certainty you'll be disappointed if you buy a "safe" product that doesn't really do what you need. There's much more diversity in the mobile market than there is in PCs. One brand often isn't a good substitute for another, and a product that's appealing to one person may be repulsive to another.

If you're an individual user, you could easily talk yourself into buying a device you'll hate every day. If you're an IT manager specifying products for your company, you could easily end up deploying products that employees won't use.

The safest thing to do is ignore the commentators and buy the device that best meets your needs.

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