Palm revealed this week that it is having trouble keeping up with demand for its popular handheld devices due to component shortages, namely displays and flash memory. But one model appears still readily available, despite the shortages: the Palm IIIc.
The IIIc, the first product from the company with a color display, was released with much fanfare in February. The device, which costs $449, was highly anticipated because it seemingly narrowed the gap between Palm and higher-end Microsoft Windows CE-based handhelds, such as the Casio E-100 and HP Jornada, which have included color displays for more than a year.
But the Palm IIIc appears to be the only device from the company readily available in both online and bricks-and-mortar retailers, as the company struggles to fill demand for nearly all of its other products.
There are a number of reasons for the abundance of color Palms, analysts say, not the least of which is lackluster demand.
"Palm has missed the ball on a couple of things," Ken Dulaney of Gartner Group said this week, referring to missteps the company has made in its product development since the departures of co-founders Jeff Hawkins and Donna Dubinsky, who left the company two years ago to start Handspring.
"They're readily available because there's almost no consumer or corporate demand," Ken Schoenberg, president of PDAMart.com, said in an email.
Palm declined to comment, citing a company policy of not breaking down specific product sales figures. Earlier this week, Palm representatives confirmed overall product shortages, blaming the situation on tight supplies of flash memory and LCD displays used in cell phones.
There are a variety of explanations for the relative availability of the Palm IIIc, but none are overwhelmingly compelling. For example, the IIIc does not use the monochrome displays that are so hard to find right now, but it does use scarce flash memory. The device is priced on the high side, but so is the Palm Vx, which has been selling well.
Palm currently dominates the market for handheld devices with about three-quarters of the market, according to International Data Corp.
The IIIc is nearly the lowest-selling Palm-branded device, second only to the fairly expensive Palm VII, which is considered a niche product. In May, the device ranked after the Palm IIIxe, the Palm Vx, the Palm IIIe and the Palm V, in that order, according to market research firm PC Data.
"It's one of the lower-selling Palms," said Stephen Baker of PC Data, which tracks retail sales.
For example, Amazon.com is backordered on every Palm device except the Palm IIIc, which ships within 24 hours, according to the site. Other online sites, including Onvia.com and Computers4Sure.com, which do not have any available stock in the Palm IIIe or Palm Vx, are not having problems filling orders for the Palm IIIc, according to their sites.
Other companies have been hit by the component shortages Palm has blamed for its overall product crunch. Nintendo said this week that the release of the next-generation color Game Boy portable game console would be delayed because of tight supplies of LCD components.
Microsoft also has grappled with component problems. Availability of early Windows CE devices, now known as the Pocket PC, was also tight because of difficulty obtaining enough color displays. Casio especially was hit hard by the shortages.