Treo Tries, Wi-Fi Dies

I'm really starting to feel bad for Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) .

Today, trade publication Unstrung is reporting that the ailing maker of the Treo smartphone, which recently agreed to sell a 25% stake to a Silicon Valley private equity firm, has lost most -- or perhaps all -- of its engineers working to integrate Wi-Fi into the Treo line.

If true, it would be latest in a string of problems for Palm. Between its poorly received Foleo, inventory problems, and the apparent death of its personal digital assistant business, it hasn't exactly been fun to be a Palm employee recently.

Actually, it's worse than that. Palm can't even keep pace on basic features, with Wi-Fi as a good example. Many Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) handsets are armed with the technology today. And Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM  ) is purportedly on the verge of unveiling new BlackBerry models with built-in WiFi.

Then there's Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) iPhone, whose introduction tomorrow should set a new benchmark for what's required of a smartphone. Yet Palm is still struggling with wireless Internet. Talk about retro. It's like that scene in the first Austin Powers movie, when the dashing-yet-buck-toothed Austin flashes a smile and a peace sign to giggling teens. You're so yesterday, Austin. You too, Palm.

Once, Palm built the products that made competitors jealous and consumers salivate. But those days are gone. And, if Unstrung is to be believed, not soon to return.

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Fool contributor Tim Beyers, still owns a Treo 600, but will be buying an iPhone when his budget allows. Tim owned shares of Nokia at the time of publication. The Motley Fool's disclosure policy wonders when smartphones will be smart enough to cook dinner.


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