Jon Rubenstein just consolidated his management position at Palm—as of yesterday he's now the company's chairman and CEO. While this sounds like some dry business news, it may be revolutionary for Palm. Can Rubenstein turn Palm around, like he did Apple?
Jon Rubenstein was asked to join Apple in 1997 by Steve Jobs...but the Apple of 1997 wasn't the Apple of 2009. It had posted a loss of $800 million and the afterglow of the Machintosh's roaring success had long faded away. Nevertheless, he was up for the challenge and joined as SVP for hardware engineering.
That's the point at which his super-powers kicked in. Over the next few years he pushed the G3 Power Mac development, and took key design decisions for the iconic iMac. In early 2001 he answered Job's call to develop a portable music player within eight months, and created and drove the team that gave the world the iPod. He oversaw the astonishing success of that product for four years, before leaving to become Palm's executive chairman.
Coming so soon after the launch of the Palm Pre—the phone that many tout as the only way Palm can pull itself out of a deep business hole—moves to place Rubenstein more in control are a clear sign that Palm means business. After all, he's already been instrumental in the design and production of the Pre—which iFixit notes was clearly inspired by Apple practices in terms of internal circuitry. Apparently unimpressed with the original prototype, he ordered some major changes, and produced a phone that's the first real contender for the iPhone's throne.
When Rubenstein joined Apple he was responsible for an aggressive reshaping of the design and engineering teams, and led a massive cost-cutting effort that killed unpromising projects and fired engineers. Palm has been beset by many of those same issues—its biggest technological successes in PDA design are long behind it, and it hasn't been innovative enough to keep up with the cutting edge of smartphone tech.
Now that the man who was behind the iMac and iPod is holding the management strings at the company, he's in a position to pull off a similar turn-around. I think it means we can expect to see more webOS-based phones that are an evolution of the Pre much sooner, rather than later.