Palm set to unveil new ‘Nova’ OS

It’s been a long trek for Palm and its loyal if dwindling family of fans but January is the make-or-break date for the company which lit the fuse on the PDA and smartphone revolution.

In just three weeks at the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas Palm will lift the covers on its next-gen operating system. Codenamed ‘Nova’ and originally promised for this year the OS will power a new wave of Palm devices which will also be on show.

In an interview with APC earlier this year Palm co-founder and CEO Ed Colligan described Nova as a “next-generation operating system …  driven around the Internet and Web-based applications.”

“We think it’s going to be stunning and breakthrough in its execution and we’re working on some very exciting new devices to go with it” Colligan told APC.

Palm is aiming to bridge the gulf between the work-minded BlackBerry with its keyboard and email-centricity and the broader consumer appeal and cool factor of the iPhone.

With Nova Colligan says that Palm is aiming for what he sees as the “fat middle of the market” – the crossover between business and personal devices.

It’s perhaps telling that the Nova-powered devices are rumoured to include not only smartphones but e-book readers and even pocket-sized GameBoy-style consoles. Unlike the original Palm OS which was created purely for the PDA Nova was built as a flexible OS with a much broader future in mind.

Driving the Nova wave is Jon Rubinstein who spent nine years at Apple and was central to the creation of the iPod and iMac before being appointed as Palm’s executive chairman for product development.

While Palm now sells devices running Windows Mobile as well as the ageing Palm OS – for which it retains a “perpetual licence” after the OS was acquired by Japanese software house ACCESS in 2005 – the company is clearly eager to return to the days when it was responsible for both the operating system and the hardware (the same model of course as used by Apple).

“We really believe that to create the most compelling solution it should be an integrated package much like we started with the Palm OS and doing the original Palm Pilots” Colligan told APC. “We did the operating system we did the hardware and we did the whole synching architecture and the desktop tie-in which is equivalent to the Web these days. One of the things we wanted to do is to make sure that we had an end-to-end solution we really controlled and could deliver the end-user experience we want to deliver.”

But Nova won’t be found on every Palm device. For at least the short term the ‘classic’ Palm OS will continue to be offered in low-end devices such as the current Centro Colligan says while the company will continue to promote the Treo line of Windows Mobile smartphones to business customers.

“Microsoft is the de facto standard in corporate email and I think they should be the de facto standard in mobile email. If you have an Exchange server today you can already get mobile push email without installing a single other piece of third-party equipment so it’s pretty easy to deploy. I don’t believe we could ever create a position in the business community that competes with Microsoft it just wouldn’t make any sense.”