• 1src,  editorial

    Editorial: Sideling for Success

    I have posted this week’s 1SRC editoral, Sidelining for Success.

    In an editorial last week Brighthand Editor-in-Chief Ed Hardy wrote that Palm will not be releasing a Palm TX2 handheld, or any other PDAs, anytime soon. I know that customers who prefer having a stand alone device won’t be happy about this news. Taking a longer view of what this development means, I feel, gives you a better idea of what is going on at Palm and why there won’t be a TX2 coming in 2008.

    The Palm TX2 isn’t the first device that we have learned won’t be shipping. Earlier this year, the Palm Foleo was announced (May, 2007) and then later canceled (September, 2007). The rumored Treo 770, which included a leaked, marked up user guide, also never materialized this year. If here is demand for these devices, and I really do believe that the Foleo answers a need for mobile professionals, why aren’t they making it to market?

    There are two reasons why I believe that these devices are being taken off the drawing board and being put on the shelf. The first is that Palm’s management team has had a dickens of a time executing on their long-term goals to deliver products. Palm executives have already admitted that the company has had trouble with execution. The second is that there are some new corporate owners in town and they are reprioritizing Palm’s internal product roadmap.

    I was listening to the Business Week Cover Stories podcast, specifically a show called “Perform or Perish” with John Byrne and Emily Thornton. The two talked about an article that appeared in a late October print issue of Business Week in which the magazine took a look at what happens to companies when they are taken over by private equity firms. The Business Week podcast caught my interest because Palm recently agreed to give up a 25% stake in the company to private equity firm Elevation Partners. The article focuses on the intense pressure put on the CEO and management team to drive down operating costs and increase profitability. It is a high stress environment for sure; however, the rewards can be equally great.

    “So how does this all fit in with Palm?” you might be asking yourself. Palm’s greatest asset is their ability to differentiate their products from all of the other devices on the market with their software. The problem is that on the Palm OS side it is becoming increasingly more difficult to differentiate due to the age of the underlying foundation of the operating system. How can they leverage their software, drive down costs, and increase profitability? I think we already have the answers.

    I suspect that the new management team at Palm has re-evaluated the internal product roadmap. Palm CEO Ed Colligan has stated that he had been working with Jon Rubinsein on a consulting basis prior to his joining Palm as the Executive Chairman of the Board at the close of the Palm/Elevation transaction. With the number of products that haven’t been released this year, three by my count, I suspect that any project that does not directly relate to the development of Palm OS II or the next generation Treo are being set aside for the time being. Make no mistake; Palm OS II is a high priority project for Palm and they need to deliver the new Linux OS on a redesigned Treo within the next year. Palm is looking to reduce costs by using a common hardware architecture that is expected to provide the company with the ability to leverage a lower bill or materials costs and accelerate the product delivery cycle. If Palm is able to execute on their plans to develop a new Palm OS, a redesigned Treo, and lower costs, the company can achieve the increased profitability I talked about earlier. With the distractions of non-essential products out of the way, Palm will be able to better focus on the items that are important to the company long term. And sometimes this means that products need to be canceled or postponed as was likely the case with the Foleo.

    In Conclusion

    Palm will have its work cut out for the 2008 calendar year. Investors, analysts, and customers will be watching the company to see if the new management team will be able to execute to drive to product delivery for early 2009. Palm isn’t a company without ideas; it is just one that needs help getting those ideas from the drawing board and into people’s hands. Palm has a long history in the mobile computing space and with the right resources in place; they can design easy to use products that help customers meet the needs of their personal and professional lives.

    [Via 1SRC.com…]

  • editorial

    Moving Forward: From Here to Palm OS II

    Palm’s new executive chairman Jon Rubinstein, during his interview with Dow Jones Newswires last week, indicated that Palm OS II won’t appear on devices from the company until 2009. Here are some ideas of what Palm can be doing between now and then.

    2007 – The Year That Wasn’t

    2007 is turning out to be a disastrous year for fans of Palm and their products. The long awaited Treo 700p maintenance release (MR) didn’t go far enough to address performance and stability issues with the device in the eyes of customers. The Palm community was shocked when they learned that the next big thing from company founder Jeff Hawkins was not the media enabled handheld that was expected but rather the Foleo Mobile Companion. Largely panned by customers and the media, Palm shamefully cancelled the product just weeks before it was to go on sale. Most recently Palm enthusiast’s were let down yet again when they learned that devices running Palm’s next operating system, dubbed Palm OS II, would not appear until the first half of 2009 according to executive chairman and head of product development Jon Rubenstein. Just last month, Palm CEO Ed Colligan had stated that such devices would appear at the end of 2008.

    I have received a number of emails, private messages, and have read posts here on 1SRC sent to me from the Palm community members suggesting that I write an open letter criticizing the management of Palm for what we, their customers, perceive as mistakes and calling the company out of touch with their customer’s requests for new devices and features. At this point, I’m sure that Palm is well aware of what is going on both inside the company and in the community. Since I am more of a “glass-half-full” kind of guy I don’t think pointing out the obvious does a whole heck of a lot of good. Yes we all know Palm needs to get Palm OS II completed and out the door. The management of Palm knows it. We know it. It’s time to move on. The following are some suggestions that I hope Palm takes to heart as they try to complete Palm OS II.

    The Road to Palm OS II

    Despite what happened in the past, at the end of the day, Palm needs to deliver a Linux-based operating system that will serve as the operating system that will replace Palm OS 5.4. In the absence of an official product name, I have begun calling the project to bring Palm OS to a Linux kernel Palm OS II. I believe that Palm sees this project as critical. However there have been several missteps in the execution to bring this new operating system to market.

    The new operating system needs to be fast. I was impressed by how the Foleo handled application switching. The next version of Palm OS needs to have that same capability. Palm OS II also needs to have a slick looking interface. You can thank Apple for that requirement. Most importantly of all is that Palm continues to provide a great user experience on their devices. This means that the OS needs to be intuitive just like Palm OS 5.4; it needs to look good; and it needs to be stable. Palm should take this extra 18 months to deliver compelling software that differentiates them from the competition. Palm must leverage their top-tier developers such as Microsoft, DataViz, and NormSoft to ensure that applications are in place for business users and consumers when the new OS is ready. Lack of software will kill any platform.

    Lastly, Palm needs to get more outsiders involved in the testing of Palm OS II. I know that management will bristle at the idea, however, I feel that it is necessary. Some of the problems with the Foleo were only discovered during the beta test that was held just weeks before the product was to ship leaving little or no time to take corrective action. Palm OS II absolutely needs to be stable, include a robust feature set, and be fully vetted by people from the community if it is going to be accepted. When Palm OS II is loaded into the next generation Palm OS Treo, handheld, or Foleo it is essential that the software is ready for a production rollout.

    Work on the Hardware

    In the time between now and when Palm OS II is officially released on devices, Palm needs to refine their hardware designs. The Centro is a good first step into making a truly consumer oriented device; yet there is still work to do. Like it or not, thin isn’t just for supermodels anymore. Palm needs to figure out how to make their smartphones thinner than the current crop of Treo smartphones. Palm also needs to look at new hardware designs. The discussion boards are full of requests for alternate form factors. I’m not sure the time is right to bring back the Tungsten T-series style slider, but people are asking for it. (HTC makes a few Windows Mobile devices that have slide out keyboards. I’m not sure how popular they are.)

    I am a believer in the Foleo concept. During the next year Palm needs to refine the Foleo hardware so that when Palm OS II is completed the hardware will be ready for it. Foleo II should include a faster processor, more RAM, and tools for connecting to and interacting with another Palm OS II device. (Palm also needs more robust Foleo software, but that is an editorial for another time.)

    Palm also needs to spend some time with their non-smartphone customers. It is time that Palm retire the Tungsten E2 and TX and replace both handhelds with a refreshed “TX|2”. If you look back at Palm’s quarterly earnings reports you will see that sales figures go up when a new handheld is released. If Palm has any plans for a TX|2 on the drawing board, it’s time to dust them off and move to refresh the TX.

    A refreshed TX|2 will be received well even without Palm OS II. I would suggest the following changes and enhancements over the current model:

    • Increase the amount of memory; devote more space to the DBCache
    • Bring back the Drive Mode application
    • Include Bluetooth 1.2 support
    • Upgrade DataViz Documents To Go to version 10
    • Upgrade NormSoft Pocket Tunes to 4.0 Deluxe
    • Upgrade VersaMail to version 4.0
    • Include the daylight savings time patch, Wi-Fi Enterprise Security Update, and security patches
    • Include the Secure Digital High Capacity (SDHC) update from Palm OS Treo smartphones

    All of those suggested updates can be done without spending a large amount of resources (people, time, and money) and can have a significant goodwill pay back to Palm from customers who don’t want a smartphone.

    In Conclusion

    Palm has their work cut out for them as 2007 comes to a close. Palm has lost their leadership role in the mobile computing market. If Palm wants to once again be an innovative company then they will need to execute their plans with determination and careful planning. Palm can’t afford to have another major product, like the Foleo, cancelled so far along in the development cycle. It won’t be easy. There will be a lot of over time hours that will be needed to make this work.

    In 2008 I expect to see an emphasis put on Windows Mobile solutions. I offer up the marketing being put into Microsoft’s System Center Mobile Device Manager and the Office Communications Server 2007 Communicator Mobile client as evidence. For the remainder of 2007 and into 2008 I largely expect Palm to coast along on Palm OS 5.4. Maybe we will see another Centro-like device appear before Palm OS II is ready to take over for the aging operating system.

    Palm should also listen to their customers and deliver the solutions that they are demanding: namely another handheld and full support for Windows Vista. As I stated earlier, the time is right for a refreshed Palm TX handheld. People will buy the TX|2 as I have outlined it above and it will generate revenue for Palm.

    Palm also needs to get a working solution in place for Windows Vista. (Palm’s own Community Help Forums are loaded with posts from customers who are trying to synchronize their Palm OS devices with Windows Vista.) [Editor’s Note: Alan is an active Palm Community Help Forum moderator.] The holidays are right around the corner and there will be a lot of people this holiday season who will find new Vista computers and Cento smartphones under the tree. Without a working 32 and 64-bit Vista compatible version of Palm Desktop I am willing to predict that it will be the Centros and not the computers that will be returned come January. Palm, you need to put pressure on ACCESS to get this synchronization mess cleaned up. (As it turns out, the consumer version of Windows Vista will be one year old come January.)

    For all of the negative press that Palm has been getting this year, they have some good products. 2008 will be critical for Palm as they complete the products that will appear in 2009. The Palm TX, Treo 755p, and Centro are examples of successful product launches. Palm needs more of these success stories during the coming year to restore customer confidence in the company.

    If done right, I believe that Palm can turn things around and be the mobile computing leader that they once were.

    [Originally posted by Alan G on 1SRC.com]

  • editorial,  foleo

    Thinking Foleo – Software Is Key

    Over the past few weeks Palm has been spoon-feeding us little bit sized morsels of information about some of the details regarding the Palm Foleo. Many people see that Foleo as simply as yet another technology company trying to release yet another sub-notebook computer.

    I believe that the Foleo can be more than that. The Foleo is a companion product to a smartphone. As far as we know, for now at least, the Foleo should work with all of the current Treo smartphones. Palm has indicated that going forward the Foleo will work with other boardband capable phones. The Foleo is, in essence, a full size keyboard and 10-inch display for smartphones. You use it for those times when you can’t or won’t use the features of your smartphone. Probably the best example we have so far of when you would use the Foleo rather than say the MacBook on which I’m writing this is for composing long email messages.

    The most interesting part of the Foleo, for me and I’m guessing you also, is what else the Foleo will be able to do. Jeff Hawkins, creator of the Palm Pilot, the Treo, and now the Foleo, has stated that this is the first device in a new category of devices. We’ve heard that same kind of talk before about Palm’s LifeDrive Mobile Manager. The Mobile Manager was a great device concept with a number of bad design flaws. The Foleo, I believe, will be different.

    Much like the original Pilot, the Foleo is free from wireless carrier restrictions. Palm will be free to design the Foleo platform as they want to without having to give concessions to the carriers. By being in the full control of the Foleo hardware and software Palm will be free to deliver innovative solutions to solve problems that their customers have. The Foleo will be the device at the cross roads of the open Linux operating system, the ingenuity of the original Pilot and flexible feature set.

    When the Foleo ships later this year, it will ship with the software essentials to give business professionals the same flexibility they rely on their smartphones for in a larger packages that is continuously synchronized with the data on the phone.

    Palm has included a number of useful software features into the Foleo right out of the box. First, and most important, is a data synchronization engine. The Foleo will keep your contacts and email synchronized at all times. Also built in to the Foleo will be the DataViz Documents To Go office suite that has shipped with Palm OS devices for years. The Documents To Go office suite will allow mobile professionals to use access files that are attached to email messages. Web browsing on a smartphone can often be an aggravating experience and so Palm has included the Opera web browser to allow Foleo users a better web experience on a larger screen.

    In today’s mobile devices, office productivity software is all expected. To round out the features that are not included in the Foleo’s box will be a virtual private network (VPN) client from Bluefire; the mDayscape full personal information manager (PIM) suite from MotionApps; Solitaire and Sudoku games from Astraware; and the Access ‘n Share remote PC data access client software from Avvenu.

    The addition of these third-party applications will mean that on launch day, the Foleo will be even more useful than we where first told during the product announcement presentation. However there is one more software package that has been only talked about in brief passing conversations: the Foleo software development kit (SDK).

    The SDK is the software the Palm has promised to make available when the Foleo ships. SDKs are used to write software for the Foleo by application developers. Once the Foleo SDK has been released anyone who wants to write applications for the Foleo will be able to do so. OK, you will likely need to know now to program in the C or C++ languages first, but after that, you could use the SDK to write software for the Foleo.

    Palm understands that fostering third-party application development is essential for the continued longevity of the Foleo platform. Third-party applications will be just as critical to the Foleo as they where to the Pilot and Treo product families. Despite being a first generation device, the Foleo has a feature rich hardware platform on which to develop applications including multiple storage options (Compact Flash and Secure Digital cards), video and audio out capabilities, and the ability to instantly turn the device on and off. And because the Foleo is running a version of the Linux operating system it should be possible for Linux application developers to jump on the Foleo bandwagon.

    The hardest thing for me to do now is sit back and wait for Palm to complete the Foleo and begin selling it. The hardest for Palm will to get the Foleo out the door with as few bugs as possible and to hit the ground running with third-party application support. If Palm can do that the first Foleo will be successful enough to make the Mobile Companion platform more than a one trick pony.