Palm and me

by Peter Rojas

I don't think anyone who knows me would consider me to a particularly rabid partisan of any of the manufacturers write about at Engadget -- I've always thought it's pretty weird to be blindly loyal to an electronics company -- but I at one point I was a fairly big fan of the Treo (especially the original Treo 600). Like most current and former Treo owners, I've become increasingly dissatisfied with what used to be the best smartphone line on the market. The launch of the iPhone this past June only made that feeling of dissatisfaction more acute -- it was frustrating to see someone else come out with a phone with features the Treo should have had years ago -- and so a few weeks ago we posted up an open letter to Palm on Engadget with some advice for how they could get back in the game and win back a lot of disillusioned Treo fans.

I figured that at best we'd get a few dozen comments on the site from similarly disgruntled users. Instead readers posted hundreds of comments, almost all agreeing with the letter, most venting a serious amount of frustration with how Palm seemed to have lost its way in recent years. Palm CEO Ed Colligan even posted a response on the Palm's official blog, acknowledging that he'd read the letter and that it was being passed around to senior management. He said he didn't agree with everything we'd written, and he didn't say anything specific about what the company was doing to turn things around, but it was still nice to know that our letter had reached its intended audience. There was something satisfying in that even if Palm never adopts a single suggestion of ours.

Anyway, I thought that'd be about the end of the story, but last night Paul Loeffler from Palm emailed me with some stunning news: that the company was cancelling what had been the imminent launch of the Foleo, a new Linux-based ultralight laptop they were pitching as a Treo companion. Killing off the Foleo was one of the major suggestions we'd had in our letter, not because we thought the ideo of an ultralight, instant-on Linux-based laptop is in and of itself a terrible idea. We just thought that the market for one would be rather limited and that the Foleo was a distraction from Palm's number one priority, which was to come up with something that could counter the iPhone and be as exciting and game-changing as the original Treo 600 was when it was introduced back in 2003.

A few people sent me congratulatory emails when they heard the news, as if somehow Engadget had been responsible for Palm deciding to hold off on the Foleo. Seems really unlikely to me, my guess is that this was something Palm had been considering for at least a few weeks. It was probably the generally negative reception that the Foleo garnered from exactly the kinds of early adopters they were targeting, combined with a growing realization that they were devoting scarce resources to creating a new platform that would almost by definition have limited appeal, made it the right decision to postpone the Foleo and reintroduce it at some later point as part of the new smartphone platform they're (supposedly) introducing next year. This isn't to say that there aren't people who would have loved a Foleo -- I actually like the idea owning an ultraportable web-centric device with a decent keyboard -- it's just that from a business perspective it seems hard to justify the investment necessary.

Without a doubt it was tough to come so close to launching the Foleo only to kill it, but it actually makes me optimistic about Palm's prospects. It's companies that refuse to make tough decisions that end up coming out with inferior products and (eventually) going out of business. I'd love to see them return to form and be a force to be reckoned with again. And that means that they better hurry up and get their next-gen smartphones out (and I'm not talking about the Centro). My Treo 700p is clunky and outmoded, and if Google comes out something decent I'm going to find it hard to resist jumping ship.