Palm CEO: We don't have to beat each other to prosper

Jon Rubinstein said he thinks there's room for a handful of smartphone makers to be successful

Palm's new CEO on Thursday said he thinks the smartphone market is growing fast enough that multiple handset makers can thrive, and he also hinted at updates to come for the new Pre phones.

Smartphones make up 11 percent of all phones globally and 19 percent in the U.S., but those figures are expected to double by 2013, said Jon Rubinstein, Palm's chairman and CEO, during the company's fourth-quarter earnings call on Thursday.

"Only a handful of companies have the software and product design capabilities" to gain significant market share, he said. "There's room for three to five players in this space. We don't have to beat each other to prosper."

Palm began selling the Pre, the first phone to run the company's new WebOS software, less than three weeks ago. It faces tough competition from Apple's popular iPhone, as well as other recent entrants like Android.

Rubinstein, one of the creators of Apple's iPod, took on his new role just two weeks ago.

He wouldn't say how many Pres have sold, but he did confirm that users have downloaded 1 million applications.

They may download at an even faster rate as Palm begins to slowly open up its developer community. For now, there are a few hundred developers who have the tools to build applications for WebOS, the new Palm software, but over the next few weeks the company will accept thousands more, he said.

"Our goal is to make the SDK available by the end of summer," he said. That's later than some people had expected, but he said the company is continuing to accept feedback from existing developers.

"We're eager to grant wide access to the SDK, but we're being measured and methodical so we're sure to have a great developer experience and support," he said.

Based on the number of developers who have signed up to become part of the program, Rubinstein expects strong interest from the developer community, and thus a growing catalog of applications.

"As you get a large number of apps, discovery and finding apps interesting to you becomes more and more difficult," he said. "So we hope to use more of a community approach to solving that problem. You'll have to stay tuned for specifics."

He hinted at other updates to come too, but refused to provide details. "We do have a great product pipeline," he said.

Rubinstein sounded open to the possibility of licensing the new operating system out to other hardware makers, but said the company isn't close to doing so.

"It's not a religious issue for us, but we have no plans at this time to even talk about it," he said.

For its fourth quarter, which ended May 29 and so did not include Pre sales, Palm posted a net loss of US$105 million, compared to a loss of $43.4 million in the same quarter last year.

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