Jon Rubinstein joined Palm as executive chairman in October 2007 after leaving Apple in 2006, where he was the senior vice president of the company's iPod division. Rubinstein was widely seen as one of the driving forces behind Palm's webOS platform, and in June Palm named Rubinstein as its CEO just days after Sprint Nextel launched Palm's flagship Pre smartphone.
In an interview with the New York Times in November, Rubinstein said Palm's webOS has a leg up on Android because Google's operating system had not attracted mass appeal yet. He also said that companies like Palm and Apple, which work on both smartphone hardware and software in-house, will have a distinct advantage over those that have to rely on third parties for software. In its fiscal second quarter though, Palm's smartphone sell-through--how many devices consumers actually bought--fell 29 percent from the previous quarter and 4 percent year-over-year.
But now Rubinstein has a golden opportunity to finally turn things around. Palm has at last secured increased U.S. carrier support in the form of Verizon Wireless and AT&T Mobility, which will launch exclusive webOS devices later this year. The actions dramatically broaden Palm's possible customer base.
But Rubinstein's chief challenge in 2010 will be to start a virtuous cycle by reversing the Catch-22 Palm has been caught in: Its phones have not caught fire because of the relative lack of applications, and developers have not taken to the platform because of the small audience. If Palm can progressively build its webOS customer base, developers will pay attention and thereby likely attract additional customers.
Rubinstein knows that the task of turning around his ailing company is an immense one. Chief among his concerns will be building momentum in the market, and increasing Palm's marketing efforts. "We need to work very hard to get the word out and get people to understand why our products are better than the competition's," he said on the company's earnings conference call last month.