Palm hires Paul Mercer, a former Apple computer engineer

In an effort to find itself again, The New York Times is reporting that Paul Mercer, a former Apple computer engineer has joined Palm.

There’s this side of me that really, really wants Palm to return to its strong leadership position for handhelds. I loved my Palm devices. I’ve owned many of them over the years from the Palm Pilot up through the Treo 650. Their industrial design was always great. Easy to use. Functional. Fast.

But I’m not sure that they have anything to differentiate themselves anymore. Now that they jumped on the Windows Mobile bandwagon while handing their own OS, I’m not sure they have anything more than a legacy brand name without a core nerve center to drive their business. HTC has picked up a huge hunk of what Palm could have been by putting commodity OSs on relatively “okay” devices targeted at email and communicator-centric business users. However, HTC remains an invisible brand, choosing instead to OEM to Cingular or other carriers. RIM is entrenched with corporate America and their “server-side” support. Palm could have been there, but isn’t.

Will Palm simply be another me-too commodity player? Can they design something that has the mass appeal and sexy exterior of Apple’s iPhone — the iPhone’s sold itselft on its form, but I still think the function will have to sell itself to the masses. Good question. My hunch is that Palm will need to completely reinvent itself. Palm is a “old-person’s” brand. Most college age or younger people who are driving opinions on which mobile devices are cool have no real brand experience with Palm. In fact, in the survey’s I took over the past 3 years working with college students, they didn’t know what a PDA was. Nokia, Apple, Motorola, BlackBerry (not RIM) are the brands they know. PDAs are now phones.


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