Simple by Design
Rob Haitani, Palm Architect at what now is Palm, Inc., says what originally worked for them was actually looking beyond the technology and focusing on what people needed to carry around with them. Too much technology -- no matter how cool -- simply carried too much weight. And another bulky gadget wasn't what consumers were looking to lug around.
''We thought products like the Newton didn't succeed because it was technology for technology's sake,'' says Haitani. ''It was too large and too slow. It had very poor battery life and it was too expensive. It was like $700 for this large brick. They kept adding new features and we thought they were going in the wrong direction.''
Company founder Jeff Hawkins figured that people needed to find phone numbers and see their schedule, according to Haitani, who was the twenty -fifth employee hired at Palm. If they could deliver that with a long- lasting battery in a light-weight form, the underlying technology wouldn't matter. So Haitani says they stripped it down, built in hot synch, and went with the basics.
And it quickly caught on.
Palm reports that in the first 18 months the Pilot was available, the company sold 1 million Pilot organizers. That's a faster adoption rate than that for the IBM PC, the Apple Macintosh and even the microwave oven.
''What Palm got right was simplicity,'' says Wilcox. ''It was easy to use and it did just enough... The other thing that Palm got right was that it took a platform approach, the way Microsoft had done on the desktop with Windows. It made third-party development easy and attractive. While Palm kept the core simple, there were plenty of things to buy for people who wanted more.''
Guiding the Pilot into the Future
While the Pilot, which Palm executives now refer to as 'the handheld', still is being sold, it's clear that Palm is focused on the Treo. Research and design efforts, as well as marketing muscle, are solidly behind this popular smartphone.
The Treo got a lot of publicity and market attention recently when the company diverted from the Palm platform and used the Windows Mobile Platform for the Treo 700W.
''I think their willingness to put the Windows smartphone operating system on the Treo is brilliant,'' says LeVine. ''A lot of firms would go down in flames before they adopt a disruption because they would find that offensive to their purity... They're showing some vision right now in being willing to adopt other operating systems. This is all normal for a firm that reaches ascendancy and then has to deal with disruption. What they've done is deal with it. They got themselves onto some phones. They got the Windows technology into their devices where it made sense. They've made smart decisions all along and I can't see them losing their grip on the market now.''
Palm's Haitani says part of the handheld's legacy will be that it's a part of the Treo. And though he says the handheld won't be going away anytime in the near future, there will come a time when it will have morphed into other devices and will no longer be needed.
''The Treo and the handheld aren't the same product line but they are the same evolution,'' he notes. ''Our future growth is focused on the Treo at this point. The whole pie is mobile computing... Handheld devices and PalmPilots will all evolve into these smartphone types of products.''
The form factor may change but communication and organizational needs will remain the constants, says Haitani.
''In the future, they may not even be a phone,'' he says, adding that as smartphone prices come down, they'll eventually be considered entry-level devices, pushing the handheld further out of the market. ''The point is we're saying people want to communicate and send information, and whatever technology that takes we will follow that path.
Ultimately, the PalmPilot's future lies in the digital DNA it passed on to the Treo and all the other smartphones that will come along from Palm.
''Palm was the beginning of this era,'' says LeVine. ''I bought it. I liked it. I used it. It was invaluable to me for a decade... I moved away from it and stepped into the next generation. They had a great product and people, like me, who were very early adopters are moving to become early adopters of other great products. We see the promise of the next thing.''