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Palm making phones again is great, but it won’t be the Palm we knew

TCL is reviving the Palm brand which is awesome. Or is it? Just because an old brand is coming back, doesn't mean it will be able to capture the love again.

Published onSeptember 15, 2017

The Palm Pre.

Over the past couple of years, there has been this teased idea that Palm – “webOS” Palm – will once again be making phones. It started back in 2014 when the website teased “Coming Soon” along with a Palm logo.

Then, as recently as a couple of weeks ago, we received confirmation that 2018 would see the release of “Palm-branded devices” built by TCL. Of course, what exactly that means is anyone’s guess. TCL hasn’t been very forthcoming on the details. Will we see Palm making phones again? Is this necessarily a good thing?

First of all, we need to get some ugly business out of the way right now. We need to divorce webOS and Palm. It’s ok. Mommy and Daddy still love you, but those two will never come in the same breath again. So let’s put webOS on the back burner and talk about Palm. We need to determine just what TCL is looking to attract here. Are people really pining for a Palm device, or are they pining for a webOS device? Again, the two are not one and the same.

webOS unite


webOS has a cult following that, yes, still exists today. I still get emails from a group of Chicago-based webOS enthusiasts. Granted we haven’t met in a while, but webOS fans are still out there, having formed a sort of support group to keep everyone up and running. Which is pretty awesome. But webOS is not coming to a new phone screen any time soon, which leads us to the Palm brand.

Palm as a brand is one of those darlings from smartphone past that built really great devices, and had really great ideas about what a smartphone was and could do. From Palm Pilots, to Palm Treos, to the Palm Pre, Palm was all about pushing productivity and innovation in the smartphone space. So, this could be a really exciting thing. Under TCL, BlackBerry has made a bit of a comeback of late, with the KEYone. Now the same company is bringing back another golden oldie.

Let’s assume

But what will this new device be? For purposes of this article, we’re going to assume that the new device will be a phone. It’s true, TCL could go with another device, like a tablet or even something else. I’m happy to opine on all sorts of devices, but you don’t have that kind of time and my editors don’t have that kind of patience. So, we’re going with phones.

Since we’re on the assumption train, let’s also assume Android. This isn’t necessarily a surprise, nor is it a bad thing. Android has proven to be a very capable operating system for devices from old-school OEMs and from new companies alike. The versatility of Android makes it a wonderful way to have a robust support system, and still allow for some differentiation from competitors. Like, say, BlackBerry for example.

Let’s take that assumption train to a few more stations. First, let’s assume that this won’t be a throw away device. This isn’t going to be some Android 5.1, 1 GB of RAM toting piece of garbage. That kind of device isn’t crazy, but it’s also not the type of device that requires three years of teasing. Or at least, sweet baby Jesus, I hope not. If it turns out that the next Palm phone is some low-end BLU device with an orange sticker, we can just turn this editorial right around and head back home. So, my money is on a midrange phone or better.

Know your role

If TCL understands its audience, I believe that a physical keyboard and a stylus are also on the menu. Think KEYone meets Note 8. That’s probably the best-case scenario that we’re working with here. That would actually be pretty incredible to be honest. I would throw money at that phone and not stop until 2019 if it comes to pass.

But here’s the thing – I wouldn’t do it because of Palm. That orange logo holds a special place in my heart, to be sure. But, when I entered the mobile technology space in 2009, it wasn’t because of Palm. It was because of webOS. It is true that I owned a Palm Treo 650 and a Centro, prior to the Pre Plus. But that also wasn’t because of Palm. That was because I loved the product that Palm was offering. I didn’t come into this with any preconceived notions of what Palm was. It just happened to offer the phone that I was looking for. Then, Palm stole my heart with webOS.

webOS != Palm

So, the point I’m trying to make is that for me, I’m pretty “meh” about the whole Palm brand revival. Palm was a nice company that developed a great operating system for its ground-breaking phones. The operating system was so ground-breaking, that is still exists today in iOS and Android. Whenever you swipe up on your iPhone X, think of webOS. Whenever you use a card-multitasking system, think of webOS.

But again, that’s webOS – not necessarily Palm. In my world, Palm was great because of webOS, not the other way around. A Palm phone with Android on it could be great. Or it could be Yet Another Android Phone (hashtag #YAAP). Having a Palm sticker on it won’t change my opinion of the phone itself one way or another.

It’s a little sad that I feel this way. And it’s a little sad that TCL is pulling the Palm brand out of mothballs in a blatant nostalgia play. It might work for TCL, and if it does, good for them. TCL makes great products, and I’m a fan. I’m looking forward to spending a lot of quality time with a KEYOne in the near future. But I would have preferred TCL had let Palm rest in peace.

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