First of all some disclosure: I worked on the Palm PR account some ten years ago now and got to work with some of the smartest people in mobile device technology, notably the company’s chief competitive officer Michael Mace as an occasional media spokesperson back when his pictures had him with a Magnum PI-style moustache.
At the time I worked on the account the company was riding high on the PDA boom, but the seeds of its current problems were sown back then.
Even after working on the Palm account, I was a Palm customer. I had a Palm Vx which I used to death (quite literally) and spent a fortune on accessories including a Rhinoskin titanium slider hard case and a ThinkOutside portable keyboard. After that I had a number of other Palm devices: a m515, a Tungsten3, a Treo 600 and a Treo 650.
The last device left such a bad taste in my mouth because of an address book full of duplicates and corrupted data that I migrated to Nokia E-series devices, which provided a superior experience to the Treo 650 despite serious software stability issues.
The company has been buffeted by critics over the years, many of them well-meaning.
With the arrival of Jon Rubenstein to give it flare and product smarts and a matching injection of new money into the company, there was every chance that Palm could reinvent itself.
Unfortunately it didn’t, and the company is now reaping the fruits of mediocre labours.
To be honest the signs where there that the new product line wasn’t great and I wasn’t surprised:
- Notably, poor developer relations (ie doing a worse job than Apple and Nokia) though very few companies are truly beloved by developers
- Not allowing journalists and analysts to try the product for themselves at launch (any piece of hardware can do a good looking demo in the right hands)
- General poor handling of relations with US market analysts and media – you shouldn’t show that they have riled you
The communications-related signs are particularly damning as they indicate that at least some insiders at the company may have realised that the product despite the hoopla was not ready for primetime.
The second good sign of a bad device is when after a decent amount of time virtually no one that you know owns one. I only know one person: the fashion-forward Rise co-founder Paul Allen; however on this occasion the Palm Pre has turned out not to be a fashion classic and more like a gadget equivalent of MC Hammer’s parachute pants.
Interestingly, in his letter to Palm employees, Rubenstein puts much of the weight of corrective action on working short-term tactics with carrier partners to create demand push with no clue about what execution improvements in terms of product redesigns and quality improvements (if any) would be coming to shore up a poor customer experience. More gadget related content can be found here.