The management of
, the leading maker of handheld computers, wasn't exactly thrilled with the
piece that appeared here Tuesday suggesting that the Santa Clara, Calif., company has a long way to go before it can be considered a "wireless" company. The dispute is no small matter. Wall Street rewards companies in the wireless industry with much bigger multiples (to sales or earnings) than it does computer makers. Here, unedited, is the response to my column from CEO Carl Yankowski. My thoughts follow.
Dear Adam: As you may have guessed, many of the team at Palm were disappointed to read your column. It's incorrect to call Palm a wireless-device company "only in its press releases." The fact is that well over a year ago, Palm introduced the first fully integrated wireless handheld computer, the Palm VII, which has been quite successful on the market -- along with the company's nationwide wireless service, Palm.net. The company's best-selling Palm V products are wirelessly enabled and used through numerous add-on products and services like Novatel's modem and the OmniSky wireless ISP. The company is an active participant in various wireless technology initiatives like Bluetooth and has publicly shown demos incorporating these technologies on multiple occasions this year.
Knowing now that you seem skeptical about Palm's wireless strategy, Palm would have appreciated the opportunity to explain it to you. When Carl made his public statement in April that the company would focus on wireless Internet access and that all Palm handheld products would be wirelessly enabled by the end of the year, he also articulated a strategy for getting there. The strategy called for accomplishing this in three ways: through integrated Palm wireless products like the Palm VII; snap-on Palm and third-party solutions like the wireless modems used widely with Palm V's in solutions like OmniSky's; and wireless/wireline phone connectivity options. Over the past year, the company has already shown significant progress with commercialized solutions towards this goal in the first two categories and has more than half the year still to go.
One of the basic themes of your piece seemed to be the implication that Palm may never be a provider of wirelessly enabled products. Given the facts, we think Palm and your readers deserve a correction.
Give Palm high fives for reading far more into critical comments than were intended; it's the mark of a hard-charging company that aggressively defends its honor. But the bottom line -- and one that I shared with CEO Yankowski over breakfast last week -- is that providing third-party wireless attachments does not necessarily a wireless company make. I, for example, am an avid Palm user. It's not an exaggeration to say my entire professional life and a good deal of my private life would be more confusing without my Palm V and the desktop software with which I store my appointments and contacts.
But I have no intention of going out and buying an additional gizmo to make my Palm wireless. And I suspect I'm not alone. It's just too much hassle. Sell me one toy and make it sleek and cool like the Palm V. That's exactly where Palm is going, and that's great. But wireless is the Holy Grail of handheld computing. Two-way pagers, cell phones and non-Palm devices all will be vying for the all-in-one solution.
As noted in my column (which also specifically pointed out that wireless add-ons are available), more than 50% of Palm's sales come from Palm Vs; Palm just hasn't achieved wireless nirvana yet. That in no way means it won't get there -- an assertion I never made and certainly didn't mean to imply. I did, however, alert readers to the risk of what could happen to Palm's valuation if it doesn't achieve its wireless dreams. Now you've got Palm's side in its words rather than mine.
Come see Adam face off with
Gary B. Smith
, in the first Real Money Conference, live in New York, June 28. The challenge: technical analysis vs. fundamental research.
"Because I research facts about companies, I almost never agree with Gary B., who practices a form of voodoo called technical analysis. But when we get into the ring together, innocent bystanders generally enjoy themselves." --Adam Lashinsky
"Technical Analysis rules, especially when my adversary is the pitiful Adam Lashinsky. Don't believe me? Then come watch me square off with him." -- Gary B. Smith.
Surviving and Profiting in Treacherous Markets
-- June 28, 2000, Marriott World Trade Center, New York City
For information and registration, go to
Real Money Conferences .
Adam Lashinsky's column appears Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks, although he owns stock in TheStreet.com. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. Lashinsky writes a column for Fortune called the Wired Investor, and is a frequent commentator on public radio's Marketplace program. He welcomes your feedback at