Marketing 101: The New Product Palm Needs to Make (And it's NOT a Treo Equivalent)
Last updated: 8/4/2002; 5:53:52 AM
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Marketing 101: The New Product Palm Needs to Make (And it's NOT a Treo Equivalent)

NOTE: Since I promised (or threatened) you with another case study and proclaimed how "easy" they are to write, it's only fair I guess that inspiration just struck me at 4:52 am on a Sunday like a hammer from above, forcing me to "do da blog" before I even hit the shower.   Hmmmm…. *Self deprecating chuckle issues from me*  *Flash of insight – Perhaps that's why I live alone.*  Need to think about that one.  Anyway…

To: Anyone Awake in Product Planning At Palm, Inc. or Handspring
From: An Ex-User Who Wants to Become a User Again But Needs a Different Type of Product from You
Re: The New Product You Need to Make But Haven't Figured Out Yet
Date: Way Too Early, Sunday August 4, 2002

Hi there.  I don't mean to be rude.  I'm an ex-product manager myself but I just had an epiphany about the product that you aren't making and I needed to tell you (well and the world).  I've been a Palm owner since 1996 and I find myself using my Palm IIIx less and less and less.  And I think you are missing something very important.  Here's why – but we're going to start with some facts and why I (used to) love my Palm.

0.  A Basic Fact

I'm sorry to tell you this Palm and Handspring but here's a few facts that seem to have missed you completely:

  1. I don't regularly carry a Palm anymore.  Why?  See point #2.
  2. I HAVE TO carry a cell phone.  It's utterly required that people be able to reach me.  Sure some of this is my own compulsiveness but it's also a matter of safety (car trouble) and convenience.  Carrying a Palm is a luxury right now, not a requirement.  Sure it's nice to have my contact info and schedule with me.  But it's not a requirement.  Sad perhaps but true.
  3. The size of a cell phone matters – a lot.  I'm an unlikely candidate for a Samsung Palm Phone or a Treo.  Why?  They're just too damn big and the requirement of these devices to do too much will forever keep them big.  You're not making the product I want.  Please read on and make me a happy Palm customer again.

1.  Why Did Palm Rock !

Once upon a time there was a product named Palm.  And it was good.  It was good not just because it worked (although that was a rarity int the kingdom known as high technology) but because it synced.  That's right it synced.  The single best thing about Palm, at least to me, was HotSync.  Drop it in a cradle.  Press a button.  *POOF*   Your data is there.  Changes are handled actually pretty well.  You can do the bulk of your data entry on a PC, a platform really, really great at data entry, and then take your data with you.  Sure you can add data to your palm as well but a lot of us didn't ever bother.  If I had to wager, I'd say that 95+% of data on Palm devices came from a PC, not from the Palm itself.  HotSync was wonderful and clearly the defining feature of the Palm.

2.  What Made Me Stop Loving My Palm?

It was the summer of 1999, a hot, sticky summer if memory serves me correctly.  The digitizer on my original Palm had given up the ghost and made recognition erratic.  I gleefully used the failure to force myself to buy a new Palm IIIx (more RAM, faster processor, whee!!!).  This was also when Palm switched HotSync software from Palm to Chapura.  After first syncing, I discovered a NASTY bug – every time I sync'd, my contacts would grow – and the changes weren't uniformly replicated.  I don't know why but I went from 250 odd contacts to 500 and then to 750.  And, just like that, the magic for me was gone.  By the time I noticed, the effort of cleaning up my contacts folder (you try weeding all your contacts down to just 1 copy of each when there are now 1 or 2 differences per changed contact and it's not apparent which one has the change).  The pain that was this bug basically switched me from a Palm user to a Palm owner.  From time to time I'd use my Palm but I basically moved my important phone numbers to my cell phone and never trusted my Palm again. 

NOTE: Yes I know that there might have been a bug fix.  So what?  The amount of time that Palm cost me was greater than the perceived value of the device as a whole.  I simply didn't want to take the risk.  I strongly thought about packing it in a box filled with dead toads and limburger cheese and then shipping it back to headquarters "Attention Product Testing Department" but a vestige of that thing I call sanity prevailed.  Pity.

Still I liked my Palm and thought about it from time to time.  I watched the emergence of Handspring, the creation of the ridiculously large Samsung Palm phone and the Treo.  But I didn't buy again.

3.  The New Product Palm Needs to Make

I just got YANCP, yet another new cell phone, and I am now doing the "MKIPNWCTPL" dance- (that's manually keying in phone numbers while cursing the phone loudly).  I mean, really.  Does anyone enjoy that "Press 2 the times for the letter C" crap?  Here's what Palm needs to make: SyncPhone.  What is it?  Is it a Treo like device?  Does it do email?  Does it do Grafitti? Nope. All I want is a damn standard cell with a cradle and HotSync.  Let me easily move a subset of contact info to it quickly and easily and take the #s I do add to the phone via MKIPNWCTPL back to Outlook.  I know this isn't a technology challenge at all.  I know it's only a cell phone with a USB connector and less software than you've ever shipped in a product.  So what!  Selling products is about solving a customer problem.  And HotSync brilliantly solved a huge problem.  You need to recognize this and solve this product for your customers.

Give it HotSync, a cradle and USB support and it's SyncPhone:


(Yup.  I'm now a happy Nextel customer)

Note what's missing – no big screen, no keyboard, no stylus, etc.  It's just a damn phone with a cable.  That's all I want.

4.  Here's Another Reason Why You Need to Make This Product

And besides the fact that you'd sell a LOT of these, there's another reason to make this product: People buy new cell phones a LOT more frequently than PDAs.  I'm still carrying, and occasionally using, a Palm IIIx (bought in 1999 no less) but I've had 4 cell phones since (dropped one out a car window), changed plans 3 times, etc.  Sure I had a bad experience which biased me against upgrading my Palm but the new features of a PDA just aren't that compelling to force the regular upgrade that Pam needs for greater revenue.  Just the ability to change your billing plan alone will force you to ugprade your cell phone regularly.  So not only can you (hopefully) get a piece of the call revenue but you also can benefit from this upgrade potential.  And, since cell phones are carried EVERYWHERE these days, they are used harder than PDAs which leads to breakage and replacement revenues.  And we'll all need additional sync cables, chargers and such.


Make my next cell phone a SyncPhone.

Conclusion 2

Yes there are some phones out there that are kind of sync'able.  I do know this.  My point with this essay is as follows:

  • Solve the problem customers actually have, not the problems that you perceive (it's about Sync not about total functionality; I don't need Notes and Calendar on a cell phone, my phone #s are just fine, thank you very much)
  • Lots and lots of technology isn't always good (SyncPhone is easy)
  • Markets evolve and products need to evolve with them (in 96 cell phones mattered less so you carried your #s with you and called from a land line; now you use a cell phone)
  • Palm has a trusted brand with HotSync and millions of users who think it works.  This can be leveraged into an entirely new business.
  • Size matters.  And in this case, smaller is better.

Note: Elapsed time, start to finish, about 53 minutes.  Very cool.

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