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Apple stamps on iPalm speculation

Exec oddly ignores companies ingrained 'no comment' policy. Curious, no?

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Now this is interesting: Apple's usual response to questions regarding its future product plans is a categorical 'we don't comment on unannounced product'. And yet here we have the company's senior VP for product marketing, Phil Schiller, apparently commenting on unannounced product.

According to the San Jose Mercury, Schiller yesterday categorically denied that Apple was working on a PalmOS-based handheld device. The quote - now widely posted across the Web - was: "We are focused on the personal computer space, not the handheld space, and that's that. I hate to use these words, but there's nothing going on."

So why use them then, Phil? Clearly, the usually well spin-doctored Schiller was caught on the hop. There's certainly no other reason why he should make a point of denying this rumoured project, and Apple's done a pretty good job to date of ignoring rumours and speculation.

That Apple and Palm Computing have a connection is clear: CEO Steve Jobs admitted some time back that he'd attempted to buy Palm from its then parent, 3Com. And at his keynote speech at last January's MacWorld Expo, Jobs introduced Palm CEO Carl Yankowski with the words: "[We've been] doing a lot of work with these guys lately."

And, don't forget, there were claims earlier this year that Apple-branded Palm devices had been spotted on a Taiwanese production line, though regular readers may recall we were pretty sceptical about them at the time.

All these hints don't, of course, clearly point to the existence of an 'iPalm', but it seems odd that Jobs would take such an interest in noting Palm's work with Apple if it was just about making sure Palm's HotSync software worked OK on a Mac. There do seem to be strong ties between MacOS X and Palm, specifically building synchronisation functionality into the upcoming OS, but does that warrant the kind of press Jobs has given the companies' co-operative efforts?

And we note Schiller didn't deny the Palm side of the handheld rumour - only that Apple isn't working on a handheld.

Getting Apple on board would certainly be a goal for Palm, which is very keen to grow the number of big-name licensees and expand what it calls the 'Palm economy'. Palm also provides for Apple a non-Microsoft, non-'not invented here' platform with which it can tackle the emerging mobile Internet market.

Certainly, it should be looking at such markets. Apple's future can't be guaranteed on desktop and portable Macs alone, and while we're fairly sceptical about the Information Appliance market - never bank on a market that the world and its dog says is going to be big; the markets that take off are always the least-expected ones - we do think there's gold in them thar mobile data hills. It may be handhelds, it may be Wap - it's probably going to be both - but either way, it would be just plain daft for Apple to ignore the mainstream opportunities here.

Which is what Schiller's 'we're only into PCs' quote suggests the company is doing.

But of this we're not entirely convinced: the evidence, from analysts and insiders, scanty though it is, implies Apple is working on non-PC products - at least at the concept stage. And as Apple focuses ever more on the consumer market, it needs to think about new ways to bring technology to new users. Schiller's comment may kill any hopes of an Apple iPalm, but there definitely seems to be more going on in Cupertino than the denial would have us believe. ®

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