Palm’s (PALM) finance chief Andy Brown knows plenty about his company’s forthcoming Linux-based operating system, which has been under development for about two years and is set to be finished around the end of this year. (Yes, this is the miracle next-gen OS steered by former Apple engineering guru Jon Rubinstein.)
What does he want us to know about it? Nothing! In a fireside chat at JPMorgan’s annual tech conference, Brown refused to answer (with substance, at least) any questions about the OS, other than telling us it will be awesome and that it will be a platform for a bunch of devices, not just one.
In the meantime, Palm will continue to rely on its popular-but-too-cheap-to-make-any-money-off-it Centro and disappointing new Treos, out this summer.
– In the middle of transition. Centro doing well. Trying to get more Windows Mobile products into market.
– Centro best-selling product to date in terms of momentum. (Because it’s cheap!) Sprint (S) doing particularly well.
– Won’t comment on rumours about Verizon phone. (This one?)
– Seen Centro from $149 to $49… RadioShack, AT&T (T) price subsidies. Would we like gross margins to be higher? YES!
– Had supply constraints. Next step is to drive cost out of product and improve gross margin.
– Any new features? “Wait and see.” Won’t introduce a new product… “my boss would kill me.”
– Comparing Palm OS-based products to Apple (AAPL) products. Designing system, hardware in-house. Ouch.
– Will come out “this summer.” Do we have business customers today looking for upgrades? Yes. Would anticipate some level of upgrade cycle.
–Side note: Really enjoying this Flash-based Webcast. Public companies: Get with the picture; stop subjecting people to Windows Media or RealPlayer.
– Elevation Partners now deeply involved the running of Palm. How have things changed? Fundamentally, not a lot. Believed in strategy, future of company. Needed to do a better job at executing, delivering products to the marketplace. Introduced them to Jon Rubinstein. Ex-VP of Engineering for Apple.
– Former Apple exec Fred Anderson also helpful. More instrumental on operational side than anything else.
– No details on next-gen operating system. Based on Linux kernel. Elevation felt it was a compelling investment based upon what they saw.
– Why so excited? At our core, how we’re going to be successful is by delivering great products into marketplace. (Really?) Hasn’t shown up in financials. Truly believe we can execute on product roadmap.
– No change on timeline. Delivering next-gen OS by end of calendar year. Products first half of calendar 2009.
– Showing off prototypes? Sure, we talk about roadmap.
– Centro unit volumes keep you in the game for now. But arguably losing money in smartphone category, growing at 35% CAGR or so. Windows Mobile product helps margins, brings back to breakeven? Near end of year you’ll see fruits of labour on Project X? Suuure.
– What kind of R&D has gone into this? Really easy acquisition target? Not something we started overnight. 2.5 years into development. Not an insignificant development. Starting new OS from scratch is significant effort. 3+ years of dev before it goes out. Wow.
– Haven’t discussed whether we’ll go back to giving guidance after transition is over.
– Wish you weren’t public company? Feels like a public private equity transaction w/ Elevation. From recruiting point, liquid stock. From distraction standpoint, could do without microscope.
– “Best funded startup in the Valley” — good for recruiting.
– How often do you see deliverables of next OS? Sure, I see it a lot. No further comment!
– The big difference is software. That’s where our core expertise really is.
– Next-gen OS is a platform for a range of products — not just one. “Clearly more of a platform for a range of products. One of the reasons we canceled a fairly significant product about a year ago was because we felt as though having a one, unified user experience for Palm products was important, that could be extensible beyond one product.”