How to botch an announcement
I’ve been thinking about email lately (see Email value management and What is email?). So it was interesting to see that Palm managed to bungle the announcement of their “next big thing” the email companion called Foleo.

They pre-announced it at the D conference and got hammered for their trouble. Funny hammered, too.

Palm’s long decline
I was a big fan of Palm for years. I owned several Palms and still have a Palm Vx gathering dust somewhere. I still use the Palm Mac Desktop for addresses. But the Mac synch got hinky at some point and it got to be too much bother. They’ve had some success with the Treo line of smartphones, which I’ve occasionally lusted after, but cell service out here in the boonies is so poor that I’ve never seen the point.

And June, of course, is the month the iPhone ships. I expect some rough edges, and the total eclipse of Palm’s aging OS. Collateral damage. C’est la vie.

Yet I like the idea of the Foleo
Which may not be their idea at all. A truly mobile device, small, light, with a bright screen and a real keyboard. With world-wide internet connectivity through your phone.

So why the negative reception?
Partly the snark comes from the techies, who tend not to get the real world of people use this stuff without loving it. Partly it is the legacy of a company that has done little right for the last 5 years, so derision is a reflex. But partly it is because Jeff Hawkins is a product guy, not a marketing guy. Look at the entire, expensively produced intro. Product as fetish, invoking coolness. The problem is that it looks like a laptop. We’ve seen laptops. A laptop can still be cool, but Foleo is a crippled laptop.

The use-case is key
Instead of focusing on the near-laptop, Palm should have focused on how this fits into the target market’s busy day. These people aren’t playing Halo, designing web pages or cutting code. They are on the phone, surfing the web, reading email and preparing and presenting spreadsheets, presentations and yes, email.

Breaking the telephony from the information processing makes sense for these people. They need a phone and they need an application appliance.

The StorageMojo take
Successful, wealthy people tend to develop egos. Sometimes, in the case of people who are long-term successful, like Richard Branson or Rupert Murdoch, those egos are justified. Other people win the lottery and confuse luck with brilliance. Jeff Hawkins falls somewhere in-between. He has a vision, and Palm isn’t able to articulate it, and he isn’t able to help.

Bringing new technology to market is often more difficult than the new technology. People are fickle and at the same time hopeful that maybe, this time, there is something meaningful for them. Exciting curiosity is easy. Exciting (techno) lust is hard. Foleo is a visionary product, without visionary marketing. It is all too likely to remain a vision, and never gain the acceptance it could.

Comments welcome, of course. I’m back from Boston, where I saw a couple of old friends, and re-acquainted myself with one of my favorite cities. Sadly, live music in the Hub has declined markedly from 12 years ago. The DJs, with their huge stores of recorded music, stand astride the city’s nightlife.

It is good to be home.