Solutions At Hand

Handhelds, smartphones, mobile technology and the digital lifestyle.

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
  • September 2007
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Why postponing the Foleo makes sense

Posted by Michael Brown on September 7, 2007

I was surprised when I received the e-mail from the Palm Developers Network where Ed Cooligan stated that they were cancelling the Foleo in it’s present incarnation. It’s a tough decision to make for a product so close to market, but in this case, it was the right one to make. My respect for the executive at Palm just went up a notch or two; it’s humbling to say publicly “We goofed”, but it’s impressive to say “we’re gonna fix it”. The $10 million hit is nothing compared to the losses they would’ve faced had the Foleo gone to market. It wasn’t a total waste either; they learned some valuable lessons that can be applied to the next generation Foleo, and even to the handheld and smartphone lines. I think the CONCEPT of the Foleo is sound, it was just the execution of the concept that was FLAWED.

Prior to the introduction of the LifeDrive, Jeff Hawkins was alluding to a Third business unit within Palm. After the LifeDrive came out, we all assumed that the “Mobile Manager” line was the Third BU, but it wasn’t; it was the Foleo. So, the Foleo has been about 3 years or more in the making, which is a long time in the Technology field. In that time we’ve had a lot of changes, both in the Palm ecosystem as well as the computing industry in general. Now’s not the time to bring out the Foleo, and most certainly not THAT Foleo. I wrote a while back about what you (Palm) got right and did wrong on the Foleo, so take that and what other people have said about the Foleo, and do the Foleo II right, but only once you’ve got your business back in order and the customers flocking in.

Palm, thank you for listening, although it’s a shame it had to come to a lot of bloggers ranting about your present course before you paid heed to what we’ve been saying for a while now. Palm users and enthusiasts have stuck with you over the years because the ‘Zen of Palm’ lets us get things done in our active lives. We don’t want you to fail, but you’ve really been letting us down lately, and it’s hurt your credibility and our loyalty. Yesterday’s announcement goes towards building up our trust in you again, but you will need to go further. Here’s what you need to do:

Real support: You’ve fallen into the same rut that most of the industry has with regard to support. You outsource it to the lowest bidder, measure “performance” based on time-on-calls and the too hasty “resolution” of support calls without regard for the most important metric: Is the problem resolved to the satisfaction of the end-user? Get real technical people on the Tech Support lines, and have an established path to escalate matters to 2nd and 3rd level support. Happy customers are repeat customers.

Stop blaming your software bugs on 3rd party developers; log them, and fix them. 3rd party developers help sell YOUR products; never forget that. Get issue tracking happening, and make it available to the developers network so they’re not spinning their wheels over stuff you’re working on.

Wi-Fi,and while you’re at it, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR: Come on, Wi-Fi is essential these days; the iPhone has it, other Cell phones have it, many $200 media players have it, even the new iPod Touch has it. Just DO it! And build-in support for the Bluetooth profiles people want to use, like stereo audio, HID Keyboards, and DUN. And don’t let carriers’ short-sightedness convince you to cripple connectivity features in firmware; in the long run, it’ll hurt you both.

Standardize the platform: There’s new chipsets out there that do CDMA and GSM. The Blackberry Worldphone has it, and so do some consumer-type phones. It may cost more per-chip, but it will reduce the number of models and variants (especially radio boards) you have in your product line, and that will reduce your development time, time-to-market, regulatory approvals, and your support costs. At least do that with your flagship Treo line; use less expensive radios in the Centro line if you have to. Try and modularize your firmware builds, and reduce the number of software variants that are too “carrier specific”; those just add to your support costs, reduce your ability to test thoroughly, and increase the likelihood of problems. 700p MR come to mind right about now? How about the various 650 firmware upgrades? Do you really want a repeat of that? And stop changing API’s between devices! You’re really annoying your 3rd party developers (remember, 3rd party developers help sell YOUR devices; you need them, whereas they need somebody, but not necessarily YOU).

Do Linux already: It overcomes the limitations of the Garnet kernel, and adds many new features and device drivers. Not to mention a lot of available software and developers. If you go the WindRiver route, make sure you have a compatibility layer like PACE, and make sure it WORKS properly! (DataMangler, uh Data Manager patch). If the WindRiver product isn’t going to beat ALP at the Palm OS game, then swallow your pride and license ALP. You didn’t buy back PalmSource in time, so get over it. If Access releases to licensees a better Palm OS for Linux than you do on your own devices, the Palm brand will die. Fast. Just look at their partner page to see your competition, or your allies. Your call.

Enough with the “Evolutionary Upgrades” already! It’s time to get back to revolutionary. The iPod Touch is the LifeDrive done right, sans the 3rd party software availability. The Treo 600 was the last “Revolutionary” device under the Palm brand, but that was Handspring’s designers. The LifeDrive could’ve been one, but you didn’t take it far enough. There was a reason why the Sony Clies were popular, and hardcore techies were salivating over Handera. They were pushing the envelope of handheld computing, while you’ve been playing it “safe”. You’re in a fight for your very survival now, if you haven’t figured it out yet. Time to take some risks; no one has lost a customer by giving them what they ask for or what they want, and we’ve been wanting this stuff for a while now! Meanwhile, the competition’s heating up…

Make the PIM software easily extensible. Allow for stuff like linking between tasks and appointments, contacts, and memos, and do it in the OS. Allow for additional contact fields to be added, or custom fields in the calendar database, and do it right! Don’t cludge something together like undocumented BLobs and DataMangling patches. Think out the feature sets, then implement them properly! ALP seems to have…

So, Palm, Can you hear us now?

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