Solutions At Hand

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    Michael is a trainer and consultant specializing in making mobility technology work in people's everyday lives.
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Archive for the ‘Foleo’ Category

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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Posted in Foleo, Palm, PalmAddicts, Treo | Leave a Comment »

The Foleo – What Palm got right, and where they went wrong…

Posted by Michael Brown on July 12, 2007

I sent this to Palm Addicts back on June 9th, and now it’s time to flesh it out a bit more with some updates.

Recently, Palm announced the Foleo, a “Treo Companion” which works in conjunction with your Treo Smartphone (and in the future, other brands). Jeff Hawkins feels this will revolutionize the way we will use and interact with smartphones. That might have been the case a year ago, but most people who have seen the announcement have been underwhelmed with the product announcement. Some think it’s a great idea, but most see it as a still-born product that will only sell a few thousand units, nothing near the amount needed to make it a viable product.

What they got right…

Instant on – people need mobile devices to be available quickly. PDA and Smartphone users are accustomed to “instant on” and being able to use the device right away, so this was a definite “must-have” in a mobile companion.

Flash storage – mobile devices need to have a reliable and low power method for storage, and flash storage is the most reliable means to do it. No mention has been made as to what is the size of the flash device, nor about how much is user accessible for mail and document storage. Update: There’s a Compact Flash card slot installed internally behind the battery, so it’s possible the device could have the storage upgraded in the future. It will ship with 128MB of non-volitile memory, shared between the OS and user data.

Clean and simple user interface – this has been Palm’s claim to fame since the original “Palm Pilot”. Simple, fast, and easy to use. The Zen of Palm.

Linux OS – this is what Palm OS6 (aka Cobalt) should have been. Hardware guys don’t like writing a multitude of device drivers for a multitude of platforms. If OS 6 had been based on Linux instead of being home-grown, it would be a very different mobile landscape right now. Enough said.

SD Card slot – Instant compatibility with all their handhelds and smartphones. Use the Foleo to download content from the Inter or Intranets via Wi-Fi to the card, and plunk it back into your Treo. They should ship the Foleo with a mini-SD card adapter, for all those Treo 755p users.

USB port – hopefully this lets you access thumb drives AND peripherals. Not much has been said as to whether this is a device port (sync to PC or use as card reader) or host (peripheral) port, or what speed it runs at (USB 1.1 or 2.0). That will have to be seen at the product launch. Update: It is a USB host port, with host drivers that should let you use an external keyboard, mouse or USB flash drives. No mention of other peripherals at this point.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi – The lack of Wi-Fi has long been a thorn in the side of Treo users. It’s basically a Palm OS kernel issue, one that could have been avoided by using Linux. Both wireless technologies are essential these days in a mobile device. Update: Wi-Fi is 802.11b

Where they went wrong…

No touch screen/tablet option – here’s where Palm really blew it! They’ve basically had over a decade’s worth of experience building “mini-tablets”, and they build…. a light-duty laptop. Web browsing can really lend itself towards a tablet design. Imagine a portrait device with a touch screen and forward, back and scroll controls. Just tap to click links. Can’t you imagine yourself sitting at a coffee shop, sipping a java and reading the news that way? They could’ve implemented a detachable keyboard, or a “twist and swivel” one that folds back onto itself, in order to make their “Treo Companion” product complete.

No web cam, built-in mic or speakers for Video Conferencing – video phones are the future. If Palm isn’t going to put a person facing camera into it’s phones, then it SHOULD’VE gone into a companion product. Most new laptops have built-in webcams, and it’s not like Palm doesn’t buy the exact same chip cam by the thousands for the Treos. If they had the camera, they should’ve also had a VOIP softphone, and Bluetooth support for Headsets for private calls. Look at the Nokia N800 as an example of portable platform done right.

No developers tools announced – Linux has an amazing developer community, and so does Palm OS. Palm should have built hype about the Foleo platform by releasing developers kits and related materials, like Apple or Microsoft does with their product announcements. Nokia has built up a open-source project (http://maemo.org/) around it’s Internet Tablets, which are doing quite well in their niche market. Instead, Palm’s leaving everything to the official product launch… Ho hummmmm, snore…. Wake me when (if?) it hits the shelves… Update: Developer tools are supposed to be released at product launch, according to an e-mail from the Palm Developer’s Network.

Price & Lots of Competition…
Now, here’s where Palm got trumped, big time! They announce the Foleo for $499 after a $100 introductory rebate. The same week, Asus and VIA announce their mini-laptop platforms. The Via Nanobook will go for $600 USD, and the Asus Eee PC for $199-299 USD (depending on storage and screen size). The Asus announcement really trumps them. Linux powered, similar specs WITH a webcam mic & speakers, Ethernet, Wi-Fi, and a standard 56K modem (apparently no Bluetooth).

That doesn’t include all the UMPC (Ultra Mobile PC) and MIMD (Mobile Internet Multimedia Device) product announcements this week, of which there were quite a few. So, Palm’s going to have an uphill battle on what they thought was a “revolutionary” product. They could turn it around, if they change the price point (which is the biggest acceptance factor), get good developers tools in place, and allow for third-party applications. So, in a few months we’ll see whether the Foleo makes the news, or the obituaries.

The Updates…
Since the initial announcement, the Palm Developers network recieved an e-mail indicating that a Software Development Kit (SDK) will be available about the time of the product launch. Rumors are circulating that the Foleo will launch on August 22, which should beat the Asus eeePC to market (it’s expected in the September timeframe).

Things haven’t been quiet on the third-party side of things either; there have been several announcements of products supporting the Foleo platform. Avvenu Access ‘n Share, Bluefire Mobile Security VPN, MotionApps mDayscape, and Astraware’s Sudoku and Solitaire have been announced as being available for purchase as of the Foleo’s release date. This bodes well for the Foleo being an extensible platform, which is one of the major successes of the Palm platform.

If Palm can continue to gather 3rd party support, and if they market the product to the appropriate vertical markets, the Foleo may succeed in the business field as a mobility enhancing add-on to Palm Powered smartphones.

Updates:
2007–7-23: Foleo Fanatics has a blog entry describing some of it’s features.

Posted in Foleo, Palm, PalmAddicts, Technology, Treo | Leave a Comment »