Right now the technology industry, particularly the mobile and its associated segments seems to be suffering from a general lack of creativity.
I mean think about it, when was the last time anyone introduced took a chance and went against the commercial tide and launched something that wasn’t just a repackaged “me too” product?
Nothing brought this home more vividly to me than analysts’ reactions to Palm’s new Foleo e-mail appliance, described by its pioneering father , Jeff Hawkins’, as a companion for smart phones.
Launched yesterday at the Wall Street Journal’s All Things Digital Conference over the hill from me in Carlsbad, CA, analysts quickly adopted an “I Don’t get it” pile-on that clearly demonstrates how much creativity and critical thinking is missing in today’s market.
When I saw Foleo the first thing I though was “how HP Omnibook 800-like” and “cool instant on and drop dead simple mail synchronization.”
Bear with me as I shift into my Sam Salmon mode and swim against the popular tide flowing against Palm’s newest appliance.
+Foleo’s industrial design is outstanding. It’s unobtrusive yet stylish. It has a full-sized keyboard, which is critical to usability. This is exactly the type of product that Jeff Hawkins excels at and which is appealing to executives and other classes of workers professionally tied to critical email.
+ The addition of Wi-Fi to this platform makes it an attractive alternative to subcompact notebooks that are twice as expensive. With WiFi, its users can hit Web-based productivity apps like Google’s Docs and Spreadsheets (which severs the expensive bond I had with Microsoft for the last two decades) for those occasions when email text editors just don’t do the job.
+Foleo’s price is low enough to insure initial adoption by corporate and other high visibility workers. If you look back in time, the original Palm Pilot wasn’t priced very low, wasn’t the first device in its category, yet it went on to establish a strategically important beach head that has been expanded by other companies who have rode Palm’s technological bow wave.
+ The email management and synchronization software for Foleo is top flight. It’s simple to set up intuitive and works right out of the box. Again, these are trademarks of Palm products, yet the analysts covering this product launch yesterday either couldn’t remember this or just incapable of understanding how important creativity is to furthering technology.
+The choice of a Linux operating system wasn’t surprising. Palm’s management has made it very clear over the last several years that they were investigating Linux and may use it if it helped a product or technology.
+One of Palm’s historic strengths has been third-party developers. Foleo is a product that can blossom quickly with such backing. Furthermore, the stature of Jeff Hawkins is such that the risk capital suppliers may be willing to take a flyer on third-party Foleo development efforts.
+ Foleo is a first generation product. I’d be willing to bet part of an avocado crop that future products will be more complex and have many more features. In fact, when I saw Foleo yesterday, my first reaction was ”add a digitizer screen, and change some mechanicals and this device could make a great sub-$1,000 tablet computer.
+ Foleo bolsters the capabilities of smart phones and will play to dual mode wireless phones that support cellular and WiFi technology while using Bluetooth for short range networking and synchronization.
Palm’s Foleo device shows that there are still companies and executives out there who have both the creative chops and backbone to launch products that expand existing categories and pioneer new ground. I think Foleo and future versions of this product could open the floodgate to a new generation of important devices.
More importantly, if you want to see how to demonstrate a product look here at the launch feed from the AllThingsD conference. No one is better at demonstrating a product than Jeff Hawkins. Period.
It’s just too bad that industry analysts and so-called seers have become risk adverse and unwilling to gauge the power of creativity in an otherwise moribund market. Jim Forbes—05/31/2007
(madatory disclosure: in the 1990's I served on a Palm advisory panel)