LifeDrive: Palm's own eierlegende Wollmilchsau

The Germans have a great phrase: "egg-laying woolly milk pig." That's the term for a product that fails because it tries to be everything to everyone.

In a speech at a PalmSource developer conference several years ago, I described Pocket PC as an egg-laying woolly milk pig, and I think that's still a good explanation of why it's popular with enthusiasts but has failed to broadly expand the handheld market. Unfortunately, though, I think the strongest example of the syndrome on the market today may not be a Pocket PC at all. It's the Palm LifeDrive.

It is difficult to determine exactly how the LifeDrive is doing in the market, but there have been hints that sales haven't lived up to Palm's expectations. In September 2005, the company blamed a revenue shortfall in part on slow sales of the LifeDrive. I don't have access to NPD's US retail sales reports, so I can't directly check the LifeDrive's sales. I hope they have improved. But I suspect sales have continued to be less than stellar, or Palm would have bragged about them.

If sales are slow, that would be a shame. I think the idea of a hard drive in a handheld is great, because it enables some wonderful solutions. Although four gigs of storage doesn't sound like much in PC terms, it's an incredible slug of data if you manage it well. Even without compression, four gigs is enough to hold the text of more than 10,000 novels – one a day for 27 years. It can easily hold the text (although not attachments) of every e-mail message you will ever send or receive in your entire life. It can hold enormous reference databases, and huge collections of business documents. It can be, in short, an archive of all the meaningful documents in your life. It's ultimate brain extender, your own personal memory supplement that you can carry with you at all times.

For those of us in information-heavy jobs, a product like that would be ecstasy.

But for that archive to work properly, it has to be wedded to a wickedly fast search engine, and you need very clever software tools to scrape the right data from your PC and the Web. You don't want to be forced to load four gigs of information one document at a time, and the archive is useless if you have to use a traditional folder metaphor to travel through it.

Unfortunately, Palm didn't wrap that sort of comprehensive data solution around the LifeDrive when it was launched. Instead, the product is bundled with a little bit of software for managing documents, and a little bit of software for carrying media files. Instead of focusing on one particular solution and utterly nailing it (the way Palm did with the Palm Pilot and the Treo), Palm crammed two contradictory solutions into the LifeDrive and didn't deliver either one of them thoroughly. On the one hand LifeDrive is supposed to be a mega-entertainment device, capable of holding tons of songs and photos and other content. But it lacks a slick, fully-integrated content-acquisition system like the iTunes music store, and at $450 it's far too expensive for the young adults who want entertainment devices.

On the other hand, the LifeDrive comes with PC document compatibility software, but lacks comprehensive tools for automatically scraping all your key files, web pages, and e-mails into the device, and doesn't have the right sort of search capability to turn those files into a personal archive. What's worse, the media features of the LifeDrive are likely to alienate heavy data users. Information-centric people can afford to pay $450, but they're the most serious of users, and are generally resistant to anything that smacks of mobile entertainment. The fun and entertaining side of the LifeDrive chases those customers away.

If you want to see the scattered identity of the LifeDrive in action, you can start with Palm's own website. The home page for the LifeDrive declares that it's great "at the office, at the hospital, on campus, and on vacation." The usual test of a good product positioning is that in addition to telling you who the product is for, it should also tell you who the product is not for. If you haven't excluded some customers, you haven't been specific enough to please anyone. Treo, for instance, is a professional business product. It's not for students, and it's not for soccer moms. But as far as I can tell, the LifeDrive is for everyone over the age of eight who has $450 to burn.

Another symptom of an egg-laying woolly milk pig is that the manufacturer resorts to a lot of technical specs in order to sell it. Since the product is basically a bag of features, that fact seeps out in the product description. Here's the main text from the LifeDrive web page:

"For those who demand more, palmOne introduces the all new LifeDrive(tm) mobile manager. With a huge 4GB hard drive and built-in Wi-Fi(r) and Bluetooth(r) wireless support, you can easily carry all the essentials of your busy life and use them as you will. • office docs • Word, Excel and PowerPoint docs from your desktop computer, 300 songs, 2 hours of video, 1,000 vacation photos, and more, are always with you. • email & web • With support for POP, IMAP and Exchange email accounts, you can stay on top of your email at any of the thousands of Wi-Fi hotspots around the world • music, photos & video • Plus, a voice recorder, MP3 player, and photo viewer keep your precious few moments of free time both more interesting and productive."

Wow, you have only a few precious moments of free time, but we'll make them more interesting and more productive. Unfortunately, most people want one or the other.

There was a time when Palm prided itself on not drowning customers in technical specs. Part of the company's positioning was that true power came from what the product did, not what parts went into it. Thanks to the Internet Archive's magnificent Wayback Machine, here's Palm's online description of the Palm Pilot, from early 1998. Compare it to the LifeDrive text above, and note the absence of acronyms and numbers:

"The PalmPilot(tm) connected organizer is the ultimate personal and PC companion. With this easy-to-use, powerful handheld device, you can manage your schedule, personal information, contacts, and e-mail -- whether on the road or at your desktop. A PalmPilot organizer lets you fit a world of information into the palm of your hand. With a touch of the HotSyn(tm) button, everything you've entered into your PalmPilot organizer is synchronized with your desktop computer, and vice versa. It's not just a backup of information - it puts the most up-to-date information you need at your fingertips, wherever you are."

Some of the basic ideas are the same as the LifeDrive, but they're expressed with much less techno-speak. And the core use of the device is clear. You can decide pretty easily if you want this product. That's what happens when you focus your messaging properly.

I hope Palm won't give up on the LifeDrive. I think it can't be an iPod replacement because Palm doesn't have the right online services, and because the product's far too expensive. But if they cut out the cute stuff and beefed up the data capabilities, I think it might be an awesome product for businesspeople and academics who need to deal with huge amounts of information.


Michael said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael said...

Great article Michael. I loved the comparison of the LifeDrive to the original PalmPilot.

Not only that, but I learned a new word as well. I can't wait to use " eierlegende Wollmilchsau" in a sentence!

Anonymous said...

Hi Mike,

Interesting reading. Doubly so since I speak passable german and I had no idea what an egg laying pig was. I recall standing in that insane line at PalmSource '05 with the people behind me counting the people in front of me and fretting whether they would get their LifeDrive or not. Shame that they were early adopters and not the rank and file.

I never got the LD as a media device. I didn't and still don't use a PDA for music. I think if our brothers at Palm Inc want to capitalize on markets, perhaps beef up the LD with a slightly larger drive and compete with the Epson 2000 storage device for photographers. How many of us want a bit of connectivity on the road and also want to save our vacation photos? OK, I know I'm a photo geek.

Good luck with the new gig.


Michael Mace said...

Hi, Michael.

Glad to help with your vocabulary. I don't speak German, so the folks in Palm Germany tutored me on how to pronounce the phrase correctly. I feel honor-bound to pass their advice along. Here goes:

eier - Pronounced like "hire," but without the h.

leg - Pronounced the same as in english.

ende - en-duh

Woll - Pronounced "voll" and don't skimp on the ll's

milch - Pronounced "mill-kch" with kch being that scratchy sound at the back of your throat

sau - like "sour" without the r, and really punch the "our"

Put it all together:

ire leg end uh voll milckh sauuuu

Now say it all together really fast, and try to sound stern when you do it.

Hope that helps.


Michael Mace said...

Thanks for the comment, Eric.

In the same article where Ed said LifeDrive sales were low, he also was quoted as saying that Palm was going to add more video playback and camera capabilities to future models of it. So maybe you're going to get what you want.

Or maybe they're going to build a camera into it. Just what the LifeDrive needs, more features. ;-)


Catherine White said...

Hello there Michael,

Thank you for providing more food for thought about our evolving industry.

This fictional creature that can do everything reminded me of the "Wompom" from the Flanders and Swann song from their Fortune Theatre performance of "At the drop of a Hat." I thought you might like to read the lyrics, if you don't already know it by heart:

The Wompom

Catherine E. White
Creators of Life Balance software
for Palm OS, Macintosh and Windows.

Anonymous said...

Oh please! The reason the LifeDrive failed was quite simply because it was buggy, slow and unstable, and therefore did not provide value for money. Palm loves to kill their products by doing stupid things e.g. using the HDD in the LifeDrive for NVFS storage, instead of using an additional 64 MB Flash. All the problems they had were entirely predictable. Another example was putting only 32MB SDRAM in the Treo 700w. This will be met with a similar backlash as the LifeDrive, as their supposed executive market keeps having to remove the battery cover to recover memory by soft resetting.

Its not lack of focus that will kill palm, its penny pinching , profiteering, and plain stupidity.

Let me re-iterate - what you call focus is Palm trying to get away with the lowest possible specification the market will tolerate. Eventually this will come back to bite you.


Tom Frauenhofer said...

I look at the LifeDrive as an experiment that Palm pushed out before it was ready. The concept of a hard drive on a device was novel, but the implementation lacked something (bugs aside, the way they implemented memory as a partition on the hard drive really hurt the product). And your points on marketing are spot on.

I do hope they learn from their experience (and user feedback) for a future device with either a hard drive or "Nano" amounts of flash.

And pick a market segment (or make it a Treo).

Michael Mace said...

Cool, more good comments.

Catherine, thanks for the Wompom song. I'd never seen it before, but I won't forget it now.

Tom, I think you nailed it. Sometimes companies will commit to a product without facing up to exactly what they'll need to do in order to finish it. LifeDrive has that sort of vibe -- "we don't have enough software engineers to really do the solution we want, so let's cobble something together because we ordered half a million hard drives and we sure as heck can't return them."

I don't know if that happened in the LifeDrive's case, but that's the feel I get. It happens all the time in the tech industry.

Surur, I don't necessarily disagree with any of your points about technical details, but I think one of the defining characteristics of the mobile market is that customers will give you a free pass on lots of spec shortcomings if the core solution is compelling enough (ie, RIM Blackberry).

If your core solution isn't compelling, people will rip you to bits over the specs, and even if you get all the specs right they won't pay more than a commodity price for your product. That's deadly for a smaller hardware company like Palm, because they don't have enough volume to make good money on commodity margins.


Anonymous said...

Hrm.. the Pocket PC is a egg-laying woolly milk pig? Well, it is a egg-laying woolly milk pig that is has been kicking Palm all over the field, so much so that Palm is now selling its own egg-laying-woolly-milk-pig Powered Pocket PC.

Michael Mace said...

Anonymous, I think what both Palm and the Windows Mobile team need to face up to is that they've failed to expand the market for smart mobile devices. These things were supposed to be at about 60 million units a year by now; instead they're more like 20 million. And most of the so-called smartphones on the market are being bought as cameraphones, not for their smart capabilities.

I think neither organization has justified the huge amount of money invested in them over the past six years. (Of course, that's true of a lot of tech companies post-bubble.)

Des Paroz said...

I was a long time Palm user. The LIfeDrive was the product that drove me away.

The hardware itself was ok, but it underlined a key weakness - that an OS can only be hacked so much to handle new functionality. The LifeDrive needed an entirely new OS to handle its power, and without that it was a slow, clunky "egg laying, wooly milk-pig". (Love that expression).

The Zen of Palm is something that we need to return to. I am currently living in PPC phone edition land, but want to move back to a Treo or similar. But I won't do it on the current over-hacked version of PalmOS.

Palm needs to put a stake in the ground and get a good OS. Not try to be all things to all people.

Bring back the zen.

Anonymous said...

The LifeDrive seems to be in the same space as the new Nokia 770 Internet Tablet, but has more mature software and is about $100 more expensive. A detailed comparison would be interesting.

Anonymous said...

When you mention the 60 million devices, I assume you are talking about the sci-fi fantasy where we use your PDA's for everything, from opening garage doors to ordering our shopping. I think ironically its the fragmentation of the market which is holding back that vision. When a unified platform arises, the comprehensive and useful solutions will soon follow, much like on the PC platform.

To summarize then, the smart mobile device will only really pay of once the OS war is over. You predicted that the market will never unify, but I think its inevitable, and will be essential for these devices to live up to their full potential.


Moshe Buhboot said...


I think LifeDrive was basically a try to defeat PPCs by providing a device with superiour data sheet - something PPC vendors like to brag about: they never say - this is a great PDA for business people - they say this is 624MHZ, 256MB, VGA, BT, WiFi, SD/SDIO, CF, 4MB Camera.. etc... and the list go on and on...

I do agree that the lifedrive was much more compelling if it had added one single 64MB flash chip. I also think that for a device that can hold my entire "My Documents" should also have a keypad..

So I hope LifeDrive2 will have a 64-128MB flash NVFS, 64MB RAM, 20GB HD a thumboard of some sort and we will weigh less...


Shawn Barnett said...


I do agree to an extent. But I happen to be typing into another egg-laying woolly milk pig: a PC (Mac, actually; but it's still a personal computer). It has my music, photos, videos, personal finances, and work programs. I use it for work and play, and I have others that I can take with me for both work and play. While I admire what the Zen of Palm did to make the original Pilot a success, I disagree that the Zen of Palm should be such a taskmaster. The feel of the Palm should remain the same, but its capabilities are always held back by Grandpa Zen. I talked with the PM for the LD, and he confessed to having gone through the gauntlet on what could be left out. Though he didn't say so, I imagine much didn't make it into the LifeDrive, just like the stuff that was stripped from the Palm V. It was only after Zen backed off that we got excellent products like the Tungsten T through T3; and the Zire's camera--very popular with a great many women, my wife included--never would have passed muster of old Grandpa Zen.

I argue that it has to be one way or the other. I think Palm should continue to make both stripped down and constantly evolving devices. Lately, I've worn a virtual Zire on my wrist in the form of the Wrist PDA. It serves for many functions that I want with me always. But I also carry a T3 most of the time, and find uses for my LifeDrive (it's too slow for most PDA functions, however).

Your article leads me to only to two conclusions: either we back off innovative and evolving PDAs and keep it simple, or we listen to Grandpa Zen from a distance as we build a PDA that can serve as a portable computer, with WYSIWYG printing, VGA out, dedicated external screens and keyboard connections. And sync that truly syncs data as you suggest, going all the way to complete data integration (I actually get a lot of this via The Missing Sync). Instead, Palm keeps holding the PDA back.

It wasn't so long ago that we were all amazed to see an actual picture on our amber monochrome monitor, and print it out on a dot-matrix printer. Nobody then imagined that we'd be watching television programs that we download to computers through thin air. While I can actually do that with my PDA, I still can't print a page from a word processor that looks any better than that old dot-matrix printer.

Palm needs to continue building the egg-laying woolly milk pig Life Drive into an egg-laying wooly milk pig who can run the combine, weld the tractor, and comb the horses. My greatest disappointment with Palm is that they don't recognize what their product is. As I said with the Handspring Visor: it's a base computer that you can make do anything. Instead of garbage in, garbage out (it's not that bad), we get half-hearted in and half-hearted out, waiting to see what the developers will do. Here's where both Microsoft and Apple have it all over Palm. They stopped waiting for developers and started making personal computers live up to their potential with preloaded, custom software. Until Palm does that, it's going to be more of the same. After releasing a product, they need to work on making it better before releasing the next one. Not just bug fixes, true innovation. They must take part in the development process more aggressively. Only then will the customer base begin to swell again.

Thanks for bringing it up, though. Thought provoking.

Shawn Barnett said...

One more thought.

While I don't agree that the LifeDrive would be better sold to businesses only any more than personal computers should be for businesses only, I do think Palm should market it more specifically, and I have told them so. On photography sites and in photo magazines it should be marketed as a brilliant, lightweight, photo offload device (oh, and it can display them, and email them, and sync them, and file them...). On music sites it should be marketed as a music player that can stream songs wirelessly from the internet. In business pubs and sites it should be marketed as the PDA with a lot of volume under the waterline for important reports, PDFs, with not only wireless access to the entire intranet wirelessly, it can take the entire contents of the intranet when you leave the office (with appropriate security of course). In aviation magazines it should be marketed as a device with ridiculous capacity for charts and plots that can be downloaded in two ways. In medical publications... You get the idea.

I agree that the one all-inclusive paragraph you cite above is a tough sell to any but the informed PDA buyer, but this alternate targeted strategy would succeed. It would be expensive, but well-placed bylined articles followed up with one ad the following month work wonders.



Michael Mace said...

Hi, Shawn.

Thanks for your comments. I'm very pleased with the quality of the messages that people are posting here. I don't care so much whether people agree or disagree with me, as long as they're thinking the issues through. I think the industry needs more discussions like this.

>>The feel of the Palm should remain the same, but its capabilities are always held back by Grandpa Zen.

I don't think there's anything in the original Zen of Palm presentation that says to hold back on innovation. The presentation does say to focus on solving the problems of 80% of the users, and punt the leading-edge 20%. I think many of the people who post online are in that other 20%, which is why the best-selling handheld models are often the ones that the online community dislikes.

>>either we back off innovative and evolving PDAs and keep it simple, or we listen to Grandpa Zen from a distance

I think the issue is not stripped down vs. evolving devices; it's whether a mobile device should try to be general-purpose like a PC, or more single-purpose like an appliance. A single-purpose product could be very advanced, but its main features would all support the same basic solution.

For example, I think the WYSIWYG printing you mentioned would be an important core feature for a document archive device (plus Bluetooth and appropriate printer drivers, so it could print to a BT printer).

When I started at Palm I was completely in the general-purpose camp. But after six years of talking to users and watching competitors, I became convinced that most users buy mobile devices more like appliances than like PCs. The truly successful mobile devices all solve a single basic customer problem very well. Some of them can do other things also, but they never sacrifice the central idea to get the other capabilities.

When I look at the LifeDrive, I think I see two core ideas, one focused on entertainment and the other on business productivity. Not only do they conflict, but in the process of trying to hit two targets Palm did a sketchy job of implementing each one.

I admit that this is a philosophical disagreement. Maybe you'll turn out to be right in the long run. I just wish we had more companies doing full-system design in the smart mobile market. Then we'd have more options, and the marketplace could sort out which design philosophy it likes best.


Scott R said...

As you touched upon in your article and someone else touched upon in their comments here, I think a core problem is that we need an all-new OS/GUI here. The Palm OS was designed from the ground up to do certain things efficiently. It worked within the confines of what the technology of the time allowed and it did a fantastic job of it. Being shareware-friendly (open development platform) was key as well.

Around that time we saw the first Pocket PCs (Microsoft Palm-sized PCs technically). These pushed the limits of technology, offering color, higher resolution screens, etc. but did so at the cost of, well, cost (and size and battery life). That platform was open for development as well, which was good. What wasn't so good was that the UI was poorly designed. Rather than a designed-from-the-ground-up to be great and uniquely suited for a PDA formfactor, it was scaled-down Windows 3.1.

As technology progressed, the PPC came into its own by reducing size and cost and improving battery life and stability. But the core UI problems remained.

The Palm OS and their licensees went along a different path. They had to hack on these advanced features as technology allowed which resulted in stability decreasing and a platform that, rather than integrating all of these features into an overall platform that used them all in creative ways together and did so efficiently, far too often felt "tacked on." This is where the lack of native support for different filetypes and no Palm OS standard APIs for dealing with cameras or playing MP3s starts to become a severe hindrance.

So how can we have our cake and eat it too? I think we need a fresh look at one or more new formfactors. Each formfactor will have its own needs, and trying to conform the Palm OS GUI/behavior or WM5's to that will provide an unsatisfactory experience.

I'm talking about the same sort of fresh look that occurred when Danger designed the hiptop/Sidekick. Hardly a perfect design (development platform was too closed, the hardware didn't integrate features that it should have from day one - e.g., MP3, camera, and being limited to T-Mobile in the US certainly doesn't help it). But as a mobile communicator for the younger market it offered a great keyboard and a UI that was designed from the ground up to do what it was capable of doing efficiently.

I still think that the market is ripe for something new. Unlike the enterprise market, I still see these devices (whether PDA-like devices or smartphones) as highly personal devices that will be bought primarily by the end-users. The larger market won't care whether the device is running on Windows or Linux or the Palm OS and will have no special loyalties there, just as the Palm OS was new when it was released, the iPod runs its own thing, the hiptop has its own platform, and featurephones everywhere are running on who knows what.

Shawn Barnett said...


I also think this is an important discussion, and respect your insight. We are definitely discussing the same problem. Where we differ is not only in what these handheld computers should be, but what they've become. For example, they were never intended to be email retrieval devices or word processors, but innovative programmers eventually made them so. Why? Because they wanted that for themselves, and eventually realized that they could sell the solution to others. Quite out of Palm's control and vision, the little "better than paper" organizer became much more.

Palm needs to realize that these are no longer just single-purpose devices. They can want that, and try to make it into an iPod, but someone will come and hack it just like they do a Sony PSP or iPod. The Treo probably never would have happened if someone hadn't introduced the concept of add-on keyboards, then small, snap-on thumb boards, adding RIM's little keyboard to the handwriting-centric Palm. Jeff initially opposed this, as well as any kind of Springboard-like slot, but as we saw, that prohibition went out the window at his own hand.

Rather than make devices conform through limiting the hardware, let your marketing plan decide how the device is perceived in each market. Software can do the rest. You just have to go all the way, and continue to support as many key avenues as you can, adding to the functionality while the customer still has their device.

By now, Palm should have made an application that not only imports your photos, but manipulates them and uploads them to an album on your PC when you get home, or to a web page via WiFi. It should be a free download, or a $20 upgrade.

Like it or not, Palm devices are multi-purpose devices. As you say, the LifeDrive tried to be a music player and mass storage device at the expense of both, but what suffered most was the PDA function. That never should have been allowed to happen. I can't use it as a PDA, because it just makes me angry too often. My T3 still serves it up lighting fast like a PDA should. Even my Palm V is faster than the LifeDrive, and can truly still function as an assistant.

Admittedly, I am among the 20% you describe, but I'm not sure that attracting the 80% is what Palm should be about. The PC industry showed that if you work diligently at making the best multi-purpose computer, using the 20% as guinea pigs and innovators, you'll eventually bring much of that 80% into the fold. If Palm succeeds at making a throwaway device to introduce the concept of a PDA that does one thing well, yet doesn't allow it to evolve into more in the hands of a person whose interest is growing, they've lost a potential customer.

Leaving the big holes, like WYSIWYG, keeps us all from making the Palm a complete tool. MSWord on the PC has taught everyone to expect their computers to not only print documents, but print them beautifully. Any of us Palm evangelists who try to explain the benefits of owning a Palm and using it as a complete mobile solution are faced with admitting it has some huge shortcomings. "What do you mean I can't type and receive email through my modem at the same time on my $500 Palm V solution?" went an email I got years ago. I had to explain that the Palm is actually doing some amazing things for something that was only intended to be a digital organizer, but you had to jump through hoops to make them happen. Those of us who've watched the Palm evolve accept these hoops without a second thought, but that 80% will have no incentive to come if we don't see the Palm for what it really is, and what people expect it to be.

Says every customer of any product: "Acknowledge my expectations, do your best to meet them, and I will come back." Again, I don't think everyone needs or wants a LifeDrive, so it's good it has a different name and a distant cousin named Z22. But if you don't offer an out-of-the-box solution for most customer expectations, only the devotees will come; the 80% will just buy a notebook and write off handhelds for life.

Michael Mace said...

Scott, I think you nailed it perfectly.

I think each major solution (device category) needs a very different user experience and a different set of features in support of that experience. I think you might be able to re-use some of the underlying plumbing for several categories (the low-level part of the OS, things like memory management and kernel), but the user interface, bundled apps, and parts of the OS that affect the solution's functionality need to be rethought from the ground up for each one.

The benefits of doing this, in terms of user functionality, are much greater than the benefits of having a single UI that spans multiple categories of devices.

Implications of this for the industry:

--You can successfully license underlying OS plumbing across multiple device categories, but not a full OS and UI.

--Companies that understand how to do systems design (full hardware-software solution) are the best suited to succeed in mobile. Unfortunately, there are very few of those in the industry today -- and to my intense frustration the VCs generally aren't interested in funding any more.

Shawn Barnett said...

Using fewer words and merging thoughts:

LifeDrive Photo
LifeDrive Business
LifeDrive Sport (waterproof, rugged, flash media instead of spinning)

Same plumbing. Different focus. Expandable with software modules to add above functionality as desired for a nominal fee.

Michael Mace said...

Shawn wrote:

>>LifeDrive Photo
LifeDrive Business
LifeDrive Sport (waterproof, rugged, flash media instead of spinning)

I could get into that, with a few caveats:

--I think they'd need to do really well-integrated software solutions for each category, including modifying the UI where appropriate, rather than just bundling a few third-party apps (the usual practice). And the apps would need to be built-in and pre-installed, not an add-in.

Check out the location UI that Garmin did for its new Palm OS device. Really nice.

--Personal belief (but based on years of market research): At $450, the market for the business solution is several times larger than the other two combined.

--All of this is predicated on Palm having enough engineering staff to create the solutions, and enough advertising money to market the solutions to the appropriate audiences. I don't think they have enough of either. So I'd start with one. Better to have one product at critical mass than three that are all insufficiently funded.

Shawn Barnett said...

Yes, great points. I'm absolutely arguing for Palm-created software solutions, not bundles, and it would require a significant outlay of funding to achieve. More important, it requires a software team to be dedicated to followup fixes and improvements. I think Jobs has proven that a small company can pull off that kind of dedicated innovation, but I'm sure I'm underestimating the difference in size between Palm and Apple.

As for marketing dollars, they've never spent enough (easy for me to say). The second time they paid for major television attention and got reasonable play--after the train commercial that introduced beaming--it emphasized the Palm's ability to serve as a flashlight in an emergency, as well as play Tetris. A $200 flashlight that you can use next time NYC loses power. Hardly compelling. Funny a few times, but they ran it into the ground until the flashlight was the main message. Would have been good to have a few more of those ads with different topics.

I'm convinced that the reason it's been so difficult for Palm to realize the benefits of being on top all this time is just astonishing corporate bad luck. With the sale of PalmSource to ACCESS it doesn't look like it will stop.

You might be right about focusing on business with the LifeDrive, but it would need a new name. I'm pretty sure their business strategy revolves around Treo, though. Smarter would be to put a 2GB flash drive into a Treo and keep aiming it at businesses.

The LifeDrive needs to become as slim and sexy as a Palm V to truly compete with the Treo. They should be able to do that with flash. WiFi battery requirements might make that harder, though.

I still have hope. Great exchanging thoughts with you.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps Palm isn't marketing it right and you are right at the steep price -- but as a product The LifeDrive really suits me well exactly because it can do a lot at the same time. Carry around my important documents as a backup? Check. Plays a lot of music and doesn't run out of battery life quickly? (I used to have a Zire 31!) Check. Surf the net over Wi-Fi? Check. Work on documents etc on the road? Check -- saves me having to drag a laptop around! And still behave as a PDA? Check. It's these things that make the LifeDrive a good device.

Josh Brand said...

Hi, and thanks for allowing public comments.

I come down in complete agreement with Shawn Barnett -- by its nature the handheld computer, like its computing ancestors and siblings, is a general-purpose tool, and the time has come to fully develop its potential. But from reading Mr. Mace's blog, especially this entry, it seems pretty clear that this model is consciously avoided among the industry, in favor of a limited one -- the deliberate crippling of function; and this concept is so dominant now that we've gone through the looking-glass: limitation is now seen as virtue. But there's a more fundamental dynamic at play.

One contradiction among many in capitalism is the amazing capacity to create new technology while at the same time working to subvert technology in order to maximize profit. To me, it seems the realization of this process in the mobile device industry has come largely from osmosis with the cell phone industry: market segregation. Here the ideal is not merely product differentiation, but the walling-off of pre-defined sections of the consuming mass. The goal is vertical integration and ownership of both the sub-market's content delivery and content, and it's here that maximum exploitation is derived.

I think the problem here is that this is a race to the bottom. As satuation approaches (or sales slip as a recession hits), the natural outcome will be further specialization. Will we see devices that are designed for the 25-year-old customer-relations set taking community college classes on the side? And if they like emo rock, does that mean there's a special heart-shaped one that will moan comfortingly when you push the power button? Ultimately, we are all whole people, and I think that sooner or later we'll end up with what's happened with PC's -- a lower-margin market that as enveloped everyone -- yet with the opportunity for greater innovation/openness. I believe that sooner or later industry will be forced to see that a general-purpose platform (though perhaps tweaked for a certain audience) is their only salvation.

I don't care one drop if these companies make money. I'm a user, and I want my palm to do anything I want it to. But so does everyone else. An Ipod is a popular, sucessful device because it works extremely well. If a Lifedrive 2 came out that had a new UI, and did everything it was billed for well (like Mac+iLife), I think it would be hugely succesful. And it would surely make palm boatloads of cash.

Michael Mace said...

Josh wrote:

>>from reading Mr. Mace's blog, especially this entry, it seems pretty clear that this model is consciously avoided among the industry, in favor of a limited one -- the deliberate crippling of function

Woah, Josh, I don't argue for deliberately crippling anything. But most added features increase cost, weight, and/or complexity. If you try to optimize a mobile device for all purposes, you end up with something that fully meets the needs of almost no one. Different people want very different, conflicting things in the mobile market, and I think there's nothing wrong with focusing a particular device on the needs of a particular type of person.

The iPod that you cite as a great product is extremely focused, and some people would argue that Apple deliberately crippled a lot of it (you can't even add third party apps).

ANyway, you shouldn't worry about my perspective, as 95% of the mobile industry is indeed trying to create itty bitty general-purpose PCs.

>>it seems the realization of this process in the mobile device industry has come largely from osmosis with the cell phone industry: market segregation

I wouldn't worry about this one, either -- most of the mobile phone companies don't have a clue how to segment mobile data users.

To me, at least, the goal is not to create "vertical integration and ownership of the sub-market's content delivery and content," it's to serve people with products designed for their needs.

The sort of segmentation I'd like to see in mobile devices is similar to the segmentation you see in automobiles. They can all drive the same roads, but no one would think of building a sports car that's also a minivan and an ambulance. And yet that's what many mobile device companies keep tying to do.

Over and over and over again.

Anonymous wrote:

>>as a product The LifeDrive really suits me well exactly because it can do a lot at the same time

That's cool. If the product's right for you, you should definitely buy it, no matter what anyone (including me) says. That's my basic answer whenever anyone asks me about RIM vs. Palm OS vs. Pocket PC vs. whatever -- buy the one that suits you best and don't worry about what other people say, because they probably don't have the same needs as you.

Unfortunately for Palm, there don't seem to be enough people who share the same needs as you.

Shawn wrote:

>>I'm pretty sure their (Palm's) business strategy revolves around Treo, though. Smarter would be to put a 2GB flash drive into a Treo and keep aiming it at businesses.

Ouch. I think the Treo should be focused on people who want advanced communications features. More storage in a Treo would be great, but before that I would go for WiFi and a great VOIP client.

I think the document archive usage goes very well with a large screen (so you can actually read those documents). The Treo's screen is too small for that. But make the screen larger and you lose the keyboard, or you make the device too thick and heavy.

I think the communicator usage and the info archive usage are best served by separate devices, until we get flexible screens.

>>I'm sure I'm underestimating the difference in size between Palm and Apple

Apple had shrunk to about $6 billion a year when Steve came back, whereas Palm's currently at about $1.6b. Another significant factor -- Apple had only one product line to advertise (Mac); Palm has two and a half (Treo, handhelds, LifeDrive). In that sort of situation, the products almost have to market themselves.

>>The LifeDrive needs to become as slim and sexy as a Palm V


Scott said...

Shawn Barnett said: "The LifeDrive needs to become as slim and sexy as a Palm V to truly compete with the Treo. "

Hmmm, sounds to me like you are describing the Palm TX.

Michael Mace said...

>>LifeDrive needs ... to truly compete with the Treo

It's just a guess, but I suspect Palm is trying to get the LifeDrive to compete with other companies' products... ;-)

LDD said...


Great article. As a Physician who purchased a Lifedrive to carry textbooks, email and other very important documents, I was disappointed by the number of crashes that occurred while using the device in front of patients.

Additionally, the speed of the device was incredibly detrimental for me using this as a stand alone device.

Although I use it to watch movies and listen to podcasts and music at times and find that I cannot live without the device now, it needs to be improved ! I find myself not using certain programs because I know that the NVFS system will not cooperate.

My final solution was to purchase a 1g Ultra card and run most of my programs and multimedia files from there.

To me, I believe that Palm's solution should be to make a 4-8 gigabyte solid state device (ie. Apple Nano) as this has proven to be more stable and certainly faster than the hard drive solution. Or, implement the hard drive as a storage only device and implement a large solid state memory component. It is obvious that running programs from the hard drive or accessing files from the hard drive is what causes all of the problems.

Great insight and I am glad that someone from the "real world" and not just the tech-junkies are finally seeing the problems that plague this device. It is a great machine that should only improve with version 2 onwards.


Matt said...

Palm calls the LifeDrive a "mobile manager." What does that mean, anyway?

I mean, I looked up Palm's definition and I know what it means, but it's such a vapid phrase (and by extension, concept) that I doubt that anyone really knows that it means anything beyond 'does stuff.'

The fact that Palm trumpets this phrase is just more proof that they haven't a clue about what they're selling in exactly the way Mike describes.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting article. I must admit I'm not nearly as critical as many users have been about the Lifedrive. I can't quite speak to the marketing aspect, but I really like using the product. I received the Lifedrive from a friend who didn't need his anymore. I've been using it for 3 months and I really like it.

My previous Palm devices were: Tungsten C, Zire 72, Handspring Visor. So I've been using Palm devices for years.

The Lifedrive is my favorite of the devices precisely because I can read documents, watch videos, and listen to audio files if I so choose. The Lifedrive also picks up wifi signals better than the T|C.

The main drawback of the Lifedrive is that some 3rd party software programs don't work that well with OS5.

I think the main barrier toward people buying the Lifedrive is the cost. Not to mention I have noticed that Palm is also not offering nice cash rewards for older Palm tradeins like it has in the past.

I don't know how I could justify $450 for the Lifedrive.

Shawn Barnett said...

>>It's just a guess, but I suspect Palm is trying to get the LifeDrive to compete with other companies' products... ;-)

I wrote that line knowing that, of course, but the more interesting and important competition is internal. Even the current Treo 600-series was designed by Handspring, not Palm. The lines are still distinct. Handspring killed their PDA in favor of Treo. They were done with the PDA (though you, Michael, are better positioned to tell us all whether they had already planned to merge with Palm at that fateful announcement).

Amazing the parallels, but it's the Lisa vs Apple II team all over again. I'm not saying the same rivalry exists, but there's a very different focus, as you pointed out.

I am curious why you are against more storage in the Treo. I understand the screen argument, but it doesn't negate that more storage is necessary in our world, especially given that photos and other large files are constantly forcing themselves into business presentations; and higher bandwidth connections are allowing far more data to travel between computers. When you're out on business, you often need to have, send, and receive large quantities of data. While you could use your notebook, it's great to have alternatives. I frequently use my LD and V3 in just that way.

As for the screen, I'm not sure how it will play out but apparently a large set of people are pretty happy watching videos on their cell phones and iPods, not to mention in little windows on their computers.

Scott said: Hmmm, sounds to me like you are describing the Palm TX.

Though I like it, the T|X has many of the same problems as the LifeDrive. The Palm V was elegant; the T|X pales despite its blue paint. The E-series body that houses the T|X was an unsuccessful attempt to recapture the magic of the V. It's too wide and still feels cheap. An old T3 bests a T|X for appearance, elegance, and speed. Palm needs to toss that E mold tool and buy another, even if just to refresh the look.

The only thing that has ever come close to capturing that Palm V design elegance is the equally fine iPaq 1900-series. Beautiful.

Finally, the T|X does not have the capacity of a LifeDrive. It is arguable, however, that all one needs is a T|X and a big SD card to come close to an LD anyway (though with half the capacity and at $100 more until 4GB SD cards arrive). All that you won't get with that solution is the photo offload solution.

Just my opinion, though. The LifeDrive needs to exist for the simple reason that data is getting bigger, and some of us need to carry it. 32 and 64MB is just too little, and SD cards fall out. You're hard pressed to buy a 32MB SD card these days without paying more for the packaging than the chips inside; why should I put up with such small capacity in a handheld device that's larger than an iPod nano?

Michael Mace said...

Hi, LDD! You're the sort of user I had in mind for an archive device. I agree with you that solid state storage would be better than a hard drive, assuming the price is equivalent.

Anonymous wrote:

>>I don't know how I could justify $450 for the Lifedrive.

To me that's exactly the crux of the problem. At that price, if you want to sell to anyone other than enthusiasts like me, you have to thoroughly solve a major problem in someone's life.

Shawn wrote:

>>you, Michael, are better positioned to tell us all whether they had already planned to merge with Palm at that fateful announcement

I don't have a clue. Neither palmOne nor Handspring shared their innermost thoughts with PalmSource, at least not at my level in the company.

I've never been all that impressed by the suggestions that there were elaborate long-term conspiracies between palmOne and Handspring. If the companies were that clever, they woldn't have gotten in financial trouble in the first place.

>>I am curious why you are against more storage in the Treo.

I'm not. I just think that some other features (such as adding WiFi and VOIP) are even more important. All other things being equal, I'd happily put 100 gigs in the thing.

>>The only thing that has ever come close to capturing that Palm V design elegance is the equally fine iPaq 1900-series.

I really admired the 1900 series, too. Wish we could have talked HP into making one with Palm OS on it.

The 1900 series never sold all that well, unfortunately. I've never been sure why.

Scott said...

First off, let me say that I bought my Palm TX to be an Eierlegende Wollmilchsau. My sole intention was to use it as a laptop replacement when I travelled. The more things it allows me to do that I normally used my laptop for, the better.

Before I bought it, I compared it to the LifeDrive. Right now, one can go to the Palm web site and see a feature comparison between the TX and the LifeDrive. There are 4 primary differences. For three of those, the LifeDrive "appears" to come out ahead, but...

Storage - the LifeDrive has a 4 GB hard drive, the TX does not. But (I would argue), all you need are large SD cards and you can have all the memory you want on the TX. (As an aside, it's interesting to note that others have chosen to use SD cards on LifeDrives in order to overcome problems with the hard drive). Thus, no real difference in storage capacity.

Microphone - Yes, LifeDrive; no, TX. Maybe a deal-breaker for some, irrelevant for me.

CPU - LifeDrive runs at 416 Mhz, the Tx runs at 312 Mhz. In day-to-day use, the "stock" speed difference is not really noticeable (in fact, the TX probably has the edge because it does *not* have a hard drive). A $10 piece of software will allow both CPUs to run at over 500 Mhz. Thus, no real difference in CPU speed.

Price - LifeDrive is $400 (new retail price), the TX is $299 (retail). Both can be found for much less than their listed prices, but the initial differential remains. The TX wins here hands down.

So, with no real advantage due to differences in features or functionality, it will be interesting to see how the TX sells relative to the LifeDrive (up to the point the LifeDrive I is discontinued -- which, if you believe the rumors, is imminent).

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

the meanig of the phrase:"egg-laying..." is positive. We used this in Germany for good products which workes well and have a wide range of usebility. So the lifedrive want to be a "egg-laying..." but it isn´t.

See you Christoph from Berlin

Shawn Barnett said...

Scott: As I said, the T|X can serve for most tasks that the LifeDrive does, but your initial point was that it was more elegant like the Palm V. Though I think they tried with the E, the T5 and T|X are one step removed from even that attempt, and fall short. I'm just talking about the intdustrial design and feel of quality. It's good, but not unique. I'm glad you find it useful, though, which is always the most important truth. I think the T|X is the direction Palm needs to be going, but with more RAM instead of less. I agree that the processor speed is not a big deal, especially if it gives you longer battery life.

Anonymous said...

Hello to everyone. Great article. I´ve been the proud owner of a palm pda since the IIIe.
I´ve had 7 models in-between. Now I have a LD. I use it for my IT job at a company. Basically I loaded tons of device drivers in the hdd, and access them everyday via Wi-Fi.
It took me two months, and hundreds for hard resets, to make my LD stable. Had to discard a lot of software that had conflicts with nvfs or upgrade to newer versions.
My LD became much more reliable and stable after the 2.0 update.
IMHO, have to tell that LD is not right for newbies, since you have to face much technical problems (for example internal applications like Files stop working if you install another third party application). etc etc.

Here in my country LD costs U$S 600. To compare a basic salary is U$S 250. It´s a lot of money.

I continue to support palm os pda, because IMHO PocketPC is far away from the simplicity that palm os has.

Maybe palm will release a "polished" version of the LD this year. With better software for that hardware. . .

Sorry for my basic english.

Cheers and greetings from Argentina.

The Voice of Reason said...

Wow, Michael. That's quite a story. Too bad it has nothing to do with reality. You may be a Master of Marketing, but sorry - we're not buying what you're selling.

First of all, the LifeDrive is NOT failing because "it tries to be everything to everyone". It's failing because it simply doesn't do anything well. It isn't even a good pig, much less an egg-laying, woolly, milk pig.

The LifeDrive fails because:

- At an original list price of $500, it was FAR too expensive for what it offered. The market for $500 PDAs isn't exactly huge these days. You can almost get a decent laptop for that much money. Also, as the prices of CompactFlash and SD cards continue to plummet, it becomes obvious that a 4 MB Microdrive is a stupid choice, since it isn't any bigger than the sizes offered by rugged, swappable, flexible flash media, yet it comes with all the downsides of a hard drive (slow, battery-hungry, fragile, hot, non-expandable).

- It does not have enough memory to function as a data management device if you're going to rationalize its (huge) size. To work as a data transport device, the LifeDrive currently needs to be connected to the host computer with an extra cable since (as usual) Palm was too clueless to come up with an integrated software or hardware solution to facilitate loading data into the device. Sure it can hold a lot of TEXT emails. Unfortunately, this is 2006 and the attachments and non-text files are often more important than the text, so the LifeDrive's paltry 4 GB suddenly doesn't seem all that big. For transporting data, a tiny, rugged USB flash drive simply makes more sense than a LifeDrive.

- It was undermined by Palm's typical asinine, suicidal, penny-pinching parts selection. Palm tried to get too clever and used part of the Microdrive as "RAM", instead of spending $5 and specifying 64 - 128 MB of RealRAM™. The result was horrible performance by the LifeDrive. Does anyone at Palm actually bother to TEST these devices BEFORE they're released?

- It lacks any decent software to optimize the out of box experience. Can you easily upload, organize, view and edit photos from a digital camera? Can you use Bluetooth to easily connect to a desktop computer and browse/transfer/sync files? Is there a built-in video player that can handle most of the popular video formats? Is there an included desktop application for converting DVDs to files playable on the LifeDrive? Is there built-in software for printing to a Bluetooth printer? Is there built-in software for remote access of a desktop computer? Is there a simple, intuitive, high quality MP3 player, with an associated slick desktop app for managing MP3 (and video) files? Are there audio/video-out connections? Is there a line-in connection for recording, with software to record directly to MP3 format? Is there a decent PDF viewer? Is there a STABLE email program? Is there a full-featured web browser? The fact that TCPMP, Picsel, SnapperMail, Resco Photo Viewer, etc exist does not excuse Palm's laziness. To expect users to pay $500 for a LifeDrive and then have to hunt for (and probably spend another $200 on) apps that will fill in the afforementioned HUGE software gaps is ridiculous. I'm amazed that Palm continues to have the arrogance to shortchange its remaining supporters.

- PalmOS 5 ("FrankenPalmOS") is so hacked up and unstable that it cannot be expected to reliably power a device intended to do the things the LifeDrive is billed as being able to do.

You say, "Wow, you have only a few precious moments of free time, but we'll make them more interesting and more productive. Unfortunately, most people want one or the other." Nonsense. People want value, sytle, novelty, functionality, ease of use and features in the things they purchase. Products usually succeed because they offer several (or ideally all) of these qualities. Unless a product has no competition, it will fail if it lacks several of these features (assuminig the marketers are not in Apple's elite league). The original Pilot 1000 offered novelty, functionality and ease of use; the Palm V offered functionality, ease of use and style; the iPods offer functionality, ease of use and style; the LifeDrive offers NOTHING. With proper specs and better software, the LifeDrive could have offered functionality, ease of use and features.

I expect you'll probably delete this comment because it tells it like it is, but it's time Palm cuts the crap and starts selling devices that offer at least THREE of the SIX qualities listed above. It would be nice to see Palm proove you wrong by designing a desirable "eierlegende wollmilchsau". Sony - despite being crippled by a hacked-up, hoary OS - was starting to get close before they pulled the plug on the CLIE lineup. The CLIE VZ90 makes the LifeDrive look like a primitive joke. Palm must follow Sony's lead and focus on how well its devices perform commonly used functions. If it fails, the competition will turn Palm into the next Amiga.

You also (conveniently) seem to be ignoring the fact that as PDAs become a mature product, they need to begin to offer the value and standardization seen in desktops. Just because not every user might not need features like extra memory is no excuse for omitting those feature when they are so inexpensive to include. Does Dell sell 300 MHz Pentium 2 computers today? Of course not. But if you look at how a lot of people actually USE their desktops (Internet browsing, email, word processing, personal finances, etc) a 300 MHz CPU would be quite adequate. Except when something comes along that either requires or works a lot better with a computer with better specs. Therse's simply no excuse for Palm to continue crippling its devices with tiny amounts of RAM and limited wireless abilities, etc. Palm's rationale for it's pathetic glacial, incremental upgrade strategy has been based on squeezing the last penny out of profits and minimizing development/support costs by extending design life cycles to the brink. This has been Palm's strategy from Day 1, and initially they used the "Zen of Palm" mantra to try to fool people into thinking "less is more". Look at the changes from the Pilot 1000 to the IIIxe; the V to the Vx; the TE to the TX; etc, etc. The Treo 650 is actually a worse spec job than we should originally have seen with the Treo 600! Suckering customers into upgrading every 12 - 24 months just to get a feature that Palm could (and should) have originally given to them in the first place is a brilliant economic strategy, but ony if it's enacted with subtlety or with the skilful marketing of a company like Apple. Svengali Steve Jobs could sell ice to an Eskimo, fcuk them up the a$$ and they would still thank him in the morning. Palm lacks that ability and its ungainly, buggy incremental upgrades have only served to pi$$ off and alienate its (former) longtime customers. Not a good thing to do, especially when they NEED those old customers because - unlike with the iPod - Palm's product line (especially the non-Treo devices) isn't bringing in brand new customers into the fold.

I believe Palm STILL has a chance to turn things around because the PDA market is not yet like the (now-commoditized) desktop market. User Interface, size and integration are a lot more important on PDAs than they are on desktops. If Palm can build on these cornerstones the way that Handspring did with the brilliant Treo 600, they may have a future. Unfortunately, once the competition figures out the ideal form factor(s) and mix of features, there will be little reason for NEW users to choose Palm/PalmOS. In the Real World, people don't care what OS their devices run if the devices simply do what they need them to do.

- The Voice of Reason

P.S. I apologize for ripping into you and Palm/PalmSource for the past several years, but someone had to keep you honest! In retrospect, most of the things I've pointed in the past ended up coming back to haunt Palm/PalmSource. It's a shame that expectations seemed to be so low within the Palm companies. Instead of trying to cut corners or build to the lowest common denominator, Palm/PalmSource should have been trying to push the envelope while at the same time rounding out their products with a mature, stable set of added features/apps. Any company - not named Apple - that consistently waits until long after a new feature has been added by its competition to include the same feature on its own devices is just ASKING to go the way of the dodo. The "Zen of Palm" excuse for selling cheap hardware and a stagnant OS at premium prices isn't fooling anyone anymore. (Steve Jobs' brilliant "spin" of the pathetic iPod shuffle shows how gullible consumers are, but eventually, even iPod buyers will also figure out that the emperor has no clothes.) 2006 wiil probably be Palm's last chance to get back on track and prove they weren't a one trick pony. The fact that Palm has done basically NOTHING with the amazing Treo design that Handspring had handed them on a silver platter is not exactly reassuring...

Michael Mace said...

Christoph wrote:

>>the meanig of the phrase:"egg-laying..." is positive.

Oh, man. My friends in Germany told me it was a negative. Thanks for correcting me, and I apologize to everybody in Germany for misusing your language.

Anonymous wrote (from Argentina):

>>Sorry for my basic english.

Your english is a lot better than my spanish, so no need to apologize and thanks for the post.

"TVOR" wrote (and wrote, and wrote):

>>I expect you'll probably delete this comment

I don't delete rants unless they're personally insulting toward someone, or are undisguised advertisements.

If you really believe in your ideas, you ought to have the courage to put your own name to them. Until then, I don't think anyone's going to listen.

robbym said...

I started using a Palm Pilot back in 1996 and have not been without one until recently when I was forced to switch to a pocket PC.

In the past two years I have returned four TT3's and two LifeDrives due to numerous malfunctions that caused me lose data, clients and eventually professional reputation.

I miss my TT3 and my LifeDrive and don't really like Pocket PC but can't sacrifice business reliabilty.

By contrast my old and much missed Palm Vx was bug free and virtually indestructible for 6 wonderful years(it survived dozens of drops to concrete and a highway auto writeoff where police found it for me hundreds of feet away up the highway still working! In fact, I used it to look up my insurance info for the paramedics!!!).

Sadly, Palm has been plagued with quality control issues ever since it became PalmOne. After sacrificing time, alot of money and some reputation points, I finally had to give up my Palm OS loyalty.

I sincerely hope Palm's upcoming devices have overcome this plague of buggy problems and give us a superior and reliable PDA experience once again.

For those of you who disagree, try loading a few older programs on your lifedrive (say AOL or zLauncher) and then enjoy the unbreakable reset loop!

Cheers and Good Luck,

ATH said...

The truly strange thing about the lifedrive debacle is the woolly thinking that comes straight from Palm about it. There is a large Palm community out there who really wanted the LD to succeed (and were disappointed when it didn't), and really would like to see the next one succeed. A general trawl through the forums discussing Lifedrive pros and cons usually yields a pretty obvious realistic wish-list for the LD2. My gut instinct on this one is that while the aspects you have addressed - the marketing pitch and product identity - are important factors, its the hardware that really lets the current LD down - far too many people complain about hard-drives dying/crashes and PalmOS instability, and it ruins the Palm experience for them, forever. Only if the LD2 is a reliable product can any of the marketing possibilities truly be addressed. And for this to happen, Palm has to focus the development and get it right - everyone else in Palm-world knows what it should have, so can someone from Palm read the hundreds of posts and just get the next one right? Please?

ATH said...

I'm posting this separately so those who want to can skip it.

My penny's worth on the next Lifedrive goes like this:

OS: It has to be the next-generation, no more hacked Garnet. Like someone said above, it doesn't matter what exactly the OS is, if it is based on Linux, or is the still-born Cobalt, it just has to work, and reliably.

Processor: Like Palm usually does, just pick a processor that is appropriate in speed to the OS - it doesn't need to be a 624MHz Intel PXA270 if it isn't required - this sort of clockspeed one-up-man-ship isn't productive.

Flash: It has to have the programs residing in flash memory a la the conventional Palm design - the 64Mb partition on the hard drive of the current LD is a horrible fudge.

Hard-drive: Everyone is calling for "Nano"-sized flash, but bear in mind how hard Apple arm twisted Samsung to provide flash memory cheap enough to make the Nano cost-marketable - it could only do this by economy of scale and Palm certainly doesn't have this. Why not just go for a 6Gb hard-drive like appeared in the Ipod Mini a year or two ago - if it can take the abuse that Ipods get, it should certainly stand up to PDA use at least as well.

BT2.0 and Wifi: pre-requisites.

Screen: Not much wrong with the 480x320 resolution. High end Pocket PCs have gone to 640x480 but Microsoft has been too scared to scale the Pocket PC OS to this true VGA resolution, so I see no reason as to why 480x320 isn't a perfect compromise?

Camera: Tricky and I think that the discussion previously on marketing angle should determine this. However the inclusion of USB-host capability to act as a "picture-dump" for a digital camera is surely a realistic new feature (Fujitsu-Siemens Pocket Loox have been sporting them for over a year now) and would add to the "media" angle.

Connectivity: The fiasco that has been Palm's PDA-to-PC wired connection has to be a real sign of the fuzziness at Palm central. The "Palm universal connector" at least was a standardisation attempt, except it isn't so universal when a few models used mini USB ports (Zire 72 springs to mind). No one has realised that using a standard mini-USB port can free you from having to carry the proprietary Palm-to-USB cable around with you, just in case you ever want to use drive mode? Its infinitely more likely that there is a standard mini-USB-to-USB cable nearby than a specfic Palm one!

Software: why not sell the basic drive and run an "IPAQ voucher" scheme, which entitles you to a couple of bits of fairly hefty software. The software bundle you choose defines what you use the device for: "Photo bundle" has photo organisation software, the "picture-dump" capability and sync options to PC. "Office bundle" includes Docs-to-go and sync software that lets you really control what gets sync-ed to the drive. "Media" bundle could include a proper video player and music Wi-fi streaming capability. At least an idea like this would let users determine what it was they required rather than the "one-size fits all" policy we have now. The sticky bit about this is that it smacks a bit of penny-pinching, rather than attempting to focus the same device for different demographics.

Little things: Palm needs to wake up to the little things that people are crying out for - these things matter disproportionately when it comes to the fickle matter of customer loyalty. Starters-for-ten include: voice recorder on every device (I've never used mine, but the anguish expressed in internet forums about the lack of this feature on some Palm models is astonishing), vibrating alarm (its useful on a phone, so it'd be useful on a PDA, and Palm has included it on previous devices!), power button that people can actually press (rather than something that you have to press with your thumb nail because it is so small and recessed).

I hope you can conclude from this that this specification isn't much further on than the current device, hence the build-cost wouldn't be increased, however the development work that these ideas from here to a working device would be significant, but worth it to creat a truly useful device. If a device with this specification arrived on your desk with "Life-drive 2" stamped on it, how would you feel? My guess is that it might, just might, restore peoples wounded faith in the Lifedrive concept.

Michael Mace said...

Hi, ATH.

Thanks very much for the comments. Good stuff.

A couple of thoughts...

>>My gut instinct on this one is that while the aspects you have addressed - the marketing pitch and product identity - are important factors, its the hardware that really lets the current LD down

I don't think your view necessarily conflicts with mine at all. You're talking about he reasons why loyal Palm OS users were disappointed in the device; I was focusing on whether the LifeDrive could establish a completely new category of mobile devices, separate from both PDAs and smartphones.

>>everyone else in Palm-world knows what it should have, so can someone from Palm read the hundreds of posts and just get the next one right?

I can't speak for the current Palm at all, but maybe it'd be useful if I talked about how Palm parsed user feedback when I was working there.

The first thing to realize is that Palm has a very small number of employees considering how well known its brand is, and how many people use its products. The flow of suggestions and ideas is from outside is overwhelming. When I was there, people were trying to listen and respond when they could, but it was like drinking from the proverbial firehose.

When there's a significant hardware or software bug in a product, the company is usually acutely aware of it because they get reports from the tech support team. So, for example, I guarantee that the app compatibility problems that folks talked about here have a lot of visibility. Other issues, like performance or general disappointment, might or might not get a lot of attention. They're less likely to generate feedback through tech support.

If a product fails to hit its sales targets, that gets a lot of attention and diagnostic work. Since Ed said that the LD didn't hit its targets one quarter, I have to assume they've talked about it internally.

Do they read what's said on the bulletin boards? Some people do, some don't (for example, I know a few people at Palm read this blog, although I don't know if they scan the comments). When I was at PalmSource, most people had tuned out the most prominent Palm OS bulletin board because the discussions there are dominated by a small number of extremely abusive people who intimidate everyone else through personal attacks.

That stuff gets old very fast. If you had a lot of other work to do, would you choose to spend half an hour wading in a sewer?

The other thing to keep in mind is that you and I and the other folks who post actively online are not very representative of the average mobile device buyer, and Palm knows it. The devices most fervently embraced by the online community are often the ones that sell worst. For example, I have to laugh when I read comments saying that Sony's last high-end Clies were close to perfection. I liked them, and I still have one, but let's face it -- they sold terribly. And it's not just because of price; they didn't resonate with anyone other than technophiles, and there aren't enough of us to sustain a handheld business.

fiat lux said...

Sad to say, but my husband and I have both given up on the Palm OS platform. He's just ordered a Pocket PC PDA and I'm back to good old paper for my PIM.

revfriend said...

Greetings Michael!
Loved the picture of the egg laying, wooly milk-pig! I happen to have laid out the hard earned cash for my new LifeDrive and I love it! Yes, it replaced my beloved Sony Clie that I would have kept much longer except the poor dear gave me a device error each time I tried the internet. (Hardware error of somesort.)
I looked at the PocketPC types but have a lot of money invested in my software! I looked at the Treo, but I'm fast with grafitti, and prefer not to get 'blackberry thumb syndrome'. So far I've had only good experiences - all my software worked (and I had some LEGACY stuff), it plays my MP3s (from Itunes and elsewhere), keeps my PDA stuff, holds documents I want to run around with, connects to the net and bluetooth with ease. I expect to be happy for another 2-3 years which is what my PDA's have been lasting me. I started in my 20's with a paper PDA then a fun Newton then went to the early Palm Pilots and have stayed with the Palm OS ever since. (FYI I had a Handspring Visor before the Sony Clie!)
I'm not a techno-geek, I'm a pastor and don't make a whole lot of money, but I thought my investment in the lifedrive is worthy.
Sorry that you didn't find the lifedrive a good ROI but I sure do!

Michael Mace said...

Revfriend wrote:

>>Sorry that you didn't find the lifedrive a good ROI but I sure do!

Thanks for the comment, and I'm glad you like your device. Don't get me wrong, I personally like the LifeDrive, but I just don't think it fits the needs of enough people. I liked most of the high-end Clies as well, and we saw what happened to them...

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