Apple’s iPhone has competition. The smart phone market segment is crowded. There’s RIM and BlackBerry, Microsoft and Windows Mobile, cell phone makers and Google’s Android, Palm and Nokia antiques, and a bunch of others, including the iPhone. Palm’s new Pre, with webOS, an attractive smart phone designed by former Apple employees, is really the BeOS of smart phones.
Former Apple executive, and Macintosh division head, Jean-Louis Gasee formed a company called Be, Inc which began work on BeOS back in 1991 with the intention of being a modern operating system running on modern hardware.
The BeOS was optimized for digital media and had an advanced file system called BFS. The BeOS user interface was designed to be crisp, clean, and uncluttered.
Think of it as a new Unix without the decades old roots and a pretty face.
Be’s BeOS and their hardware, BeBox, never caught on but attracted plenty of investor money and, eventually, the attention of Apple Computer, Inc.
By the mid-1990s Apple was bleeding money and market share, and new CEO Gil Ameilio scrapped Apple’s much delayed Copland OS project and went shopping for a new operating system to replace the aging Mac OS in an attempt to stop the Windows juggernaut.
In 1996 Apple began negotiations with Gassee to buy the BeOS. Apple offered as much as $200-million while Be held out for $400-million. Desperate for a new OS, Apple stalled.
By the end of the year Apple had crafted a surprise deal to buy Steve Jobs’ NeXT, and the highly touted NeXTSTEP OS instead of BeOS.
The rest is current history.
Wherefore Art Thou, Be?
BeOS was ported to run on Intel-based PCs but never caught on with buyers. Even the free BeOS version which could run inside Windows or Linux failed to attract users.
In 2001, what was left of BeOS was sold to… here it comes… Palm.
What does Access do? They make software and operating systems for… here it comes… smart phone makers and mobile device makers, specifically NTT DoCoMo, Orange, Nokia, Samsung, Amazon’s Kindle, and many others.
Parts of the BeOS and Palm OS are likely on various mobile devices spread all over the world.
What Goes Around
What powers the new Palm Pre? webOS, a successor to the Palm OS with a heritage, or, perhaps a future, not altogether unlike the BeOS.
The BeOS never made the big time partly because there was not a large enough base of devices running BeOS, therefore, not enough applications and utilities were ever developed to run on the devices. It’s a common chicken and egg scenario.
That is Palm’s problem with the Pre. Few devices. Few applications. And little significant differentiation between the new Pre and the popular iPhone.
Apple managed to pull off a hat trick with the iPhone by selling many devices with a nominal number of applications, then, as the customer base grew, by setting up an attractive platform to develop and distribute iPhone applications, en masse.
Palm’s Pre wants to be better than the iPhone, just as the BeOS wanted to be better than Mac OS and Windows, but failed in the market place. Why?
Not enough devices. Not enough applications. Palm’s Pre is the 21st century version of the BeOS. Too little. Too late.