The Chinese corporation TCL has announced that it plans to launch Palm-branded devices in 2018. TCL bought the rights to the Palm brand from HP back in 2014 and initially planned to relaunch the company, but there’s been little action on the Palm front since that purchase. Now the company is saying it will bring new Palm devices to market, with one or more devices slated to be announced in Q1 2018 (probably at CES or Mobile World Congress).
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Palm was the breakout star of the mobile computing world. It’s hard to remember now, but there was a time when handheld PDAs were built as completely distinct products from phones. Palm’s early devices were pioneers in this market, and the company (after several mergers, acquisitions, and name changes) later made the jump to smartphones. Ultimately, the company was overshadowed by BlackBerry and iOS, but fought back with its own webOS. HP later bought (and killed) the company, and Palm wasn’t able to build enough business momentum around webOS to justify maintaining the product (HP bought it, but then killed its own products that used it; webOS is now used only in some LG televisions).
The smart money is on TCL building Android devices for Palm, the same way it builds BlackBerry devices (most recently, the BlackBerry KEYone, which received solid reviews). How the company will differentiate those products from other phones isn’t known. So far, reviving brand loyalty on Android has been a mixed bag; I’m certain there are some BlackBerry aficionados buying Android devices under the BlackBerry brand, but it’s not like we’ve seen those phones rocketing up the sales charts. Bringing Palm back will only have meaning if TCL manages to capture something in its software or hardware that evokes the original Palm PDA or its smartphone follow-ups.
That’s why a brand revival of this sort is something of a risk. TCL is basically betting on nostalgia-fueled sales — even if the phone’s specs are top notch, it needs to persuade people to take a chance on a TCL Palm as opposed to a Samsung Galaxy or an LG V20/V30. BlackBerry has its physical keyboards and an emphasis on security. What will Palm (as a brand) bring to the table? Handwriting recognition? Visual cues or applications that mimic webOS? If TCL wants to capture the market for people who grew up using Palm devices, it’s going to have to find a way to appeal to them that’s based on something more concrete than a device logo and a font.
Feature image by GillyBerlin