The Palm Foleo Disaster: Part One

There is now a Part Two.

[Update: Correction made to Docs2Go functionality.]

The Foleo had been in development for quite some time. The first inkling of it being in development came from Palm founder and PDA market creator Jeff Hawkins, who explicitly stated that Palm had a “third business.”

Hawkins: Palm Has Secret Third Business
Friday, August 05, 2005 12:19:36 PM

Here is the key quote:

What are the implications of a world where everyone has a super high-speed Internet connection in their pocket and many gigabytes of storage, super-fast processors, audio, visual and multimedia? What are the consequences of that? How will that change computing when you have all that stuff available to you all the time?

Close to two years later, with that quote being repeatedly and constantly referred to by people and passed around like some sacred talisman or a token of hope to be redeemed in the future, Jeff Hawkins himself revealed that the Third Business was the Foleo.

Foleo specs:

Processor:
416MHz Intel PXA27x

RAM:
256MB of non-volatile memory
about 128MB available for data and applications

Graphics Processor:
Marathon 2700G graphics accelerator

Storage:
Compact Flash (CF) maxing out at 2GB;
Secure Digital (SD) maxing out at 2GB;
Support for FAT16 and FAT32 formatted USB Flash drives

Networking:
802.11b Wi-Fi
Bluetooth v1.2

NO Flash video capability, NO MP3 player included, NO video player included

Web browsing was ONE window. Documents to Go was ONE file open at a time. [Update: see end of post for correction]

NO core Palm apps included: No Calendar, No Contacts, No Tasks, No Memos.

NO HotSyncing with a desktop.

Is it any wonder people were up in arms after being primed with:

What are the implications of a world where everyone has a super high-speed Internet connection in their pocket and many gigabytes of storage, super-fast processors, audio, visual and multimedia? What are the consequences of that? How will that change computing when you have all that stuff available to you all the time?

It wasn’t pocketable, it didn’t have gigabytes of storage, it didn’t have a super-fast processor, and it couldn’t do any multimedia!

I was one of the earliest to slam it on Palm Infocenter, the first to rechristen it:

RE: Third business.
mikecane @ 5/30/2007 2:41:52 PM #

>>>UMPCs will blow this thing away, or the market for it simply doesn’t exist.

2008 will bring:
http://tinyurl.com/2mq6fl

Intel prototype 01

Intel prototype 02

Foleo. Flopio is more like it!

Hey, you Nokia N800 users. This gonna make you switch? Thought not!

Why would I want to shell out $500-$600 bucks for something that looks like it was ripped off from HPs old sub-subnotebook (I can’t recall the model now; someone will dig it up somewhere) and has far less capability than a notebook that costs maybe 1.5-2x as much and can do, minimally, A HUNDRED TIMES MORE?

Next!

And I slammed it on this blog too:

My Reaction To Palm’s New Foleo Device

Millennium 03

Lost in this mob action were comments such as this one (which no one even bothered to reply to):

excellent product by Palm
chiefthetony @ 5/30/2007 2:33:52 PM #

If anyone has trid to do some work using the small screen and the small keyboard will appreciate this one.

Nope. Jeff Kirvin, who has for years advocated PDAs for writing, had this reaction to the Foleo: Foleo – Are you freaking kidding me?

All the hassle of a laptop, none of the utility

I already stopped carrying my Stowaway Sierra Bluetooth keyboard because it was too much of a hassle for the limited stuff I can do with mobile apps. The Foleo is at least twice the size of my Stowaway, and far more power hungry, yet it doesn’t offer much more. You get a bigger screen, sure, but you’re still limited on what you can do with it.

Also, in Comments at his blog:

This could be a new platform, it could be the first really viable Linux consumer PC, it could be a rethinking of what a laptop should be in the Web 2.0 era, but… it’s just not very good. Nice idea, Hawkins, pretty laughable execution.

The reaction I — and most people — had was entirely justified given what Hawkins himself had said. Speculation had been all over the map. None of us could see what Hawkins was possibly working on, what he had found that no one else could. And with PalmOS becoming more arthritic by the day, with Palm itself making misstep after misstep, with Palm hardware gaining a reputation for outright shoddiness, few people were prepared to stop and listen to an announcement that was less than Capital-S Spectacular.

It just so happens that such an announcement came in January — but it was from Apple, not Palm. Apple had concretized the latent dreams of many and also gone beyond what anyone could imagine.

It was what we had all expected from Jeff Hawkins and Palm.

So when Hawkins was shown on stage with Mossberg and in subsequent videos saying, “The Foleo syncs email with a Treo” — and that was its key selling point and central functionality! — we who had waited for much too long and been treated like less than dirt for several years by Palm weren’t about to pause and think. Our collective disappointment and the contrast with the iPhone was too much to bear. We wanted blood.

But: Jeff Hawkins and Palm brought all of it on themselves.

It also didn’t help that Hawkins had no defense against Mossberg’s question about the Foleo being able to access YouTube videos. It’s as if Hawkins figured we’d all be wowed by email sync and forget about — well, forget about the rest of the world! When he said if he were to design it today it would have a faster processor, what was everyone else left to think, seeing the Foleo’s own father being ashamed of it?

What could have possibly been in Hawkins’ head? What did he imagine the reaction would be to the Foleo? Apparently not what he expected — because after Mossberg, his position was all defensive. Instead of making any effort to save the Foleo, he stood his ground, back to the wall, looking like a self-deluded fool.

I’ve been in the corporate world. I’ve attended presentation rehearsals. Did Hawkins ever do any? Did anyone outside his own bubble ever present tough questions to him so he — and a team of PR professionals — could develop cogent and convincing responses that would bend the audience to his will? If he did, then he was ill-served by those PR pros and they should be fired for massive failure. And what about Palm? Did Palm ever bother to formulate a Plan B if Plan A went into the toilet? And as they watched it going down the toilet, did they even consider a Plan B?

Steve Jobs is accused of having a Reality-Distortion Field. That is, of course, an exaggeration. What Steve Jobs is able to do is sell his vision.

The iPhone is, at the time of this writing, a closed platform. Yet Steve Jobs spun crappy web services into something that sounded like a good thing. And he did it in a way that has everyone — especially me! — waiting for the implied promise of an iPhone SDK that will turn the iPhone into exactly what it looks like: a pocketable Mac. He made it sound as if by allowing the iPhone to use web services, we would be sticking it to the Suits of AT&T who wanted to protect their precious network, stifle innovation, and gouge iPhone owners any possible way they could. It was brilliant positioning (even if most people didn’t buy it, they admired his chutzpah!).

Hawkins was unprepared to spin. The best he could come up with was Instant On. And the way he presented it was in a desperate, “Well, if you don’t like the Big Thing, do you think maybe you’ll kind of like this little thing?” He seemed like he was begging.

A man who was able to create the first usable PDA and create a global market where none had existed before should have never been put in such an embarrassing position. It was disgraceful. It was suicidal.

And what was even worse than that?

Ed Colligan coming along to disgrace himself and to publicly humiliate Hawkins.

Palm, in its great talent for self-delusion, created what it believes to be a blog. When the blog began, and for some time afterward, there wasn’t a peep from Colligan on it. You would think that on something that is supposed to represent an open exchange between a company and its customers — a glastnost and perestroika — it would begin with a message from the CEO of that company, to thank the customers, to share his vision for the blog, to explain how he will participate.

There was none of that.

Yet in the middle of the Foleo wildfire, Ed Colligan breaks precedent and rides in with a public statement thanking a tech-toy fan website for its free consulting!

What?

After years and years and years of thousands and thousands of Palm customers voicing their ideas and their complaints, Ed Colligan basically says, I’m Only Gonna Listen To Engadget!

And the way he did it was so egregiously awful, the worst parts bear repeating with analysis:

I really appreciate the fact that you guys and others care enough to take the time to write such a comprehensive list of actions.

Aw, let me give you a nice hug! What’s scary to begin with is that Colligan seems to believe that pseudo-list addressed everything! I can see Colligan reading and going, “Phew! That’s all that’s wrong with us? Then we’re in pretty good shape overall!”

Of course it only gets worse:

I forwarded it to our entire executive staff and many others at Palm have read it.

What? It sounds like Ed printed it out, scurried to a Xerox machine, made a bunch of copies, and ran through the corridors of Palm from office to office shouting, “Ya gotta read this ! Ya gotta read this!” It made it seemed as if the entire staff at Palm are a bunch of eejits who can’t figure it out for themselves, who never go into stores to see competitor products, and it made Ed Colligan himself look like a stark imbecile taking orders from little boys.

I mean, had that techie site stated anything new? When had any of it never been said? What part of it was brand new?

And if any part of it was brand new to Ed Colligan and Palm, then that company is finished because it’s clearly running on arrogance.

It gets even worse:

Let’s remember that it is very early in the evolution of the smartphone and there is enormous opportunity for us to innovate. We have only just begun to fight!

JK on the Run dispatched that bit of nonsense succinctly:

Engadget appeals to Palm- they respond

The folks at engadget outlined a course of action for Palm to get the slumbering PDA maker back into the competitive fast lane. It is a good plan and apparently Palm is watching. Ed Colligan has promised on the Palm blog that some exciting stuff is coming up. To quote Ed:

Let’s remember that it is very early in the evolution of the smartphone and there is enormous opportunity for us to innovate. We have only just begun to fight!

That statement sums up Palm’s problem in a single sentence. You see, Mr. Colligan, the rest of the industry began to fight at least seven years ago. You’d better train awfully hard for this fight.

One key issue in Engadget’s list was this bit, which I think made everyone go WTF?

Stop wasting money on the Foleo – We all know this isn’t going anywhere. And even if it does do alright — and let’s be real, it’s never going to do better than alright — it’s really just a distraction from the main business you’re already neglecting. Besides, how many Treo companions do you expect to sell if the Treo itself isn’t up to snuff? The Foleo is not the way to make the core product better.

Wait a minute. Where did this come from? Its inclusion, after droning and twee paragraphs that go on and on about Treos, is just bizarre. Why this? If the focus is Treo, I would have expected a denunciation of the PDA line, a line which both Palm and Hawkins have explicitly stated is “mature” and “declining” and seem to have no enthusiasm for.

To me, it seems as if everything else that’s been written is nothing but camouflage for that bombshell. Everything else was casing for that explosive.

Why suddenly torpedo something new? Especially after word after word extolling the authors’ alleged expertise — which apparently doesn’t include how very limited the original Pilots were and the evolution of their increased functionality. I would expect them, experts they claim to be, to see the Foleo as akin to the original Pilot and understand how it would evolve. But no. Let’s look at some of this a bit closer. First off:

We all know this isn’t going anywhere.

We do? Who is this “we?” There are many people on the Internet — aside from the Linux fringe — who are earnest in their desire to buy the Foleo. Potential customers — the market for products — suddenly don’t matter? Jeff Hawkins was pleased by the personal reactions he received to the Foleo from executives at the D Conference!

It gets uglier:

And even if it does do alright — and let’s be real, it’s never going to do better than alright

In other words, we could be wrong, but Ed, that’s not what you really want to hear. And “it’s never going to do better than alright” — never? Never? Who are these guys? Why aren’t they placing horse bets to get rich? They seem to have a pipeline into the future! You mean to tell me that people who buy the Foleo won’t start proselytizing it? That they won’t show it to family, friends, coworkers, even total strangers? That people seeing it being used won’t ever ask about it? No blogs will spring up around it? Firsthand reports of real-world usage won’t fly around the Internet? It might sell, in other words, but then die because its happy owners will all keep it a secret? What is this crap?

Given Ed Colligan’s unprecedented response, it reads in retrospect as if they are giving him permission to cave in to the firestorm of criticism.

Let me bang the hammer on this so everyone gets the proper perspective on this.

Hawkins, Dubinsky, and Colligan once upon a time left Palm to create Handspring. Handspring was going to enter the PDA market against two huge companies: 3Com/Palm and Sony. It was also going to go up against Microsoft. At the time, no one ridiculed the idea of starting a company from scratch and competing in the PDA marketplace. And, in fact, when the Handspring Visor was released, it contained a glaring technical strike against it: it didn’t have the OS in a Flash ROM. The OS could never be upgraded (and that was a real never, unlike the fantasyland Engadget version of that word). In addition, the Handspring Springboard slot needed to garner support to help sell Visors. Investing in, designing, and tooling up to deliver hardware is much more expensive than software. Ultimately, trying to nurture a Springboard ecology failed. And yet there weren’t one-tenth the objections to the entire Handspring venture than there have been for the Foleo. The Foleo, which could be expanded in functionality via software and which already had several developers announcing products for both the consumer and corporate markets.

Now look at the timing of this.

Engadget lets loose on Tuesday, August 21. Colligan replies on Thursday, August 23. The day before, Wednesday, August 22, an analyst claimed the Foleo was going to miss its summer sales deadline. On Friday, August 24, Palm issued a denial. Note that: Palm issued a denial.

In chronological list order:

Tuesday: Engadget open letter to Palm
Wednesday: Foleo rumored late
Thursday: Colligan’s reply to Engadget
Friday: Palm denies Foleo rumor

Why not just shut up about the lateness rumor? Apple does it all the time. It works for them. (When Dvorak let loose with rumors about the iPhone’s alleged abysmal battery life and possible late arrival, there was no denial from Apple.) Why bother to issue a denial? And who authorized said communication?

That was the last of the Foleo news. From anybody. No new software was announced. No new pronouncements about the Foleo appeared on the Palm blog. No shipping date was announced.

The debate even paused on the Internet.

On Monday, September 3, after several days of contemplating what I need as tech tools, I write a blog item that hints my objections are beginning to weaken. In fact, all of my objections nearly collapsed earlier in the week, and I had begun a post that I never published. What motivated that post is something I’ll discuss in a later part.

On Tuesday, September 4, right after the long Labor Day weekend (which I doubt was a holiday for any of the Palm top-tier executives), Ed Colligan does two things that are unprecedented:

1) His writing appears on the Palm blog for a second time

2) He publicly announces the cancellation of the Foleo

Jeff Hawkins, father of the first successful PDA, who enthused about his latest world-changing product, was publicly humiliated by the company he had founded.

Did anyone notice that Jeff Hawkins didn’t issue any statement?

What is particularly eerie in Colligan’s announcement is his wording, calling the Foleo:

a platform that is not central to our core focus.

Contrast that with what Engadget said:

The Foleo is not the way to make the core product better.

Now Corporate Man tends to use a limited vocabulary (which consists of using “implementation” a lot), but it is very odd that fans would indulge in using the term “core” when “central” or “predominant” or “foremost” or even the name Treo would do. Who is mimicking whom? Why does it seem as if both are part of one script? Why do I get the impression not of a dialogue, but of two partners engaged in a rehearsed dance?

There’s also a question no one has bothered to ask:

Ed Colligan leads a company that has a valuation of over one billion dollars. Do his actions seem worthy of that position?

Two sites have called for the removal of Ed Colligan. Ordinarily, this would mean nothing. But in light of the fact a man entrusted with leading a billion-dollar-plus global corporation seemingly takes advice from websites, it has new weight. (Hey, Ed, I asked for you to leave too! That makes three sites!) Perhaps the Palm Board of Directors or stockholders will follow Ed’s sudden penchant for website advice?

(Do I think Colligan would voluntarily leave or that Donna Dubinsky or Hawkins would support his leaving? No. You have to understand the double mean of “Treo.” It’s not just a brand name. It also signifies the Hawkins-Dubinsky-Colligan trio.)

In Part Two I will further elaborate on the Foleo as announced, how it ties in with the history of the Hawkins-Dubinsky-Colligan troika, the monkey-wrench thrown into the Foleo works, and how the Foleo could have been saved even with its limitations and despite the Internet Category 5-strength objections.

foleo-top.jpg
Take a good long look. It will probably never be back.

Update: According to this post on TreoCentral, multiple documents could be open in Docs2Go:

I’d just like to point out that you were able to have an unlimited number of documents open in Word To Go, Slideshow To Go, and Sheet To Go. There was a dropdown box at the top of the screen that allowed you to switch from one document to the next, and you could also use keyboard shortcuts to do so. You did not have to save the document; it was left in a suspended state so when you switch back to it, you’re right back where you left off.

edit: One other thing I forgot is that we implemented an “autosave” mechanism so that when you switched out of a document, or into another application, your changes would be saved to your document even if you did not explicitly perform a save. That way, your documents would always be up to date. Of course, you could still revert your changes if it turns out you really didn’t want the file saved after all.

I agree that having the switching done via tabs instead of the dropdown box would have been cool, but the basic functionality was already in place.

That I only found out about that today — the day after posting this entry — just emphasizes what a disaster marketing the Foleo was. That was never widely known.

Click for Part Two.

Previously in this blog:
What Was Your ROS*, Palm?
Blog Notes: Yes, I’m Working On It!
Dumbass Of The Year: Ed Colligan
I’m So Bad, I’m Good
If We Can’t Have Momentum On This, Can I At Least Get An Amen, Brother?
Newsflash! Pictures Of Corpses Left In Wake Of iPhone Price Cut!
Palm Kills Foleo
OK, Now The Foleo Scares Me
Ugh. Backlogged. Still.
Poor Ed Colligan. Ascared Of Me.
Engadget Snags The Attention Of Autistic Palm, Inc.
iPhonespotting
Oh Look! I Get To Bash Palm And Nokia At The Same Time! It’s Two Two Two Hits In One!
Palm Flogs Blog, Flails, Fails
iPhone Vs. Palm Treo: You Can’t Fight A Corpse
Microsoft, Palm, And Nokia: You Better Be Freaking Out!!
Failure Has A New Name
Treo-Skimming. A Post-iPhone Craze?
Record Blog Traffic: Apple iPhone Vs. Palm Foleo
Earth To Palm: Change The Foleo’s Browser To Safari
What Foleo 2.0 Needs
If FSJ Says It, Then It Is So!
Oh My God! What Did We Buy?!!?
Prediction: Palm To Drop All Handhelds
LifeDrive Notes: Should Palm’s Software Engineers Be Beaten With A Spiked Bat Or Tied Up Together And Dumped In The Ocean From 30,000 Feet?
Palm’s Flopeo, Uh, Foleo: Best Other Name For It
A Picture Of Two Tech Devices That Should Have Never Been Released
My Reaction To Palm’s New Foleo Device
On A Day When Palm Gets Everything Wrong, Apple Gets It Right

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2 Responses to The Palm Foleo Disaster: Part One

  1. [...] 2: Not really related to this, but just read Mike Cane’s long post on Palm and the Foleo. Well worth taking a few minutes to read.  ↑  Iron Man [...]

  2. [...] Palm’s Foleo was ridiculed for not being able to access YouTube. It also didn’t help that Hawkins had no defense against Mossberg’s question about the Foleo being able to access YouTube videos. [...]

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