Jeff Hawkins' "secret" project is coming next year

Ed Colligan, CEO of Palm, gave a talk this morning. Afterward I asked him if we'll see next year the secret project that Jeff Hawkins has been working on. "Yes," he said, and moved immediately to another question.

Very little information has been released publicly about the Hawkins project. I know a number of very bright people at Palm moved to work on it, more than a year ago. Hawkins himself has dropped cryptic hints about something that would start a new category of devices, alongside handhelds and smartphones. I know some developers have been shown pre-release versions of the product, and the reactions were mixed. But nobody's discussing what the device actually is.

Apparently we'll find out next year.

I'll be interested to see it because I believe there's still a huge opportunity for new sorts of mobile devices. The mobile market is heavily segmented, so much so that mobile phones can't and won't eat everything. Other than Palm and Apple, though, there aren't a lot of companies that are both willing to experiment in new categories of mobile hardware and capable of creating full hardware-software solutions, as opposed to just tossing a hunk of hardware out there.

I'll post more about Colligan's talk later.

23 comments:

Gazpacho said...

Oh goodie! Unlike the depressing news about the vague future of ALP and Palm's alledged own LinuxOS ventures, I really like this secretive news about Hawkins' new product! I really wonder what it is.

Dammit Michael, you always get to talk to the *interesting* people. ;)

maceyr said...

I hope that it's something really BIG because aside from years of complacency with respect to Palm (don't get me started about the lack of Wi-Fi on their devices, never mind that they're still only supporting 802.11b), the lack of innovation and their abandonment of the standalone Palms. Don't get me wrong. I love Palms and am trying very hard to help promote it but when everyone I know comes out with the usual what have they come out with lately, it's hard to not see the writing on the wall.

I really hope that Palm does come up with something good that really shocks and takes everyone by surprise and bring Palm back into the fold.

Anonymous said...

The comments about a new category of device were from a year ago. It was discovered that he was referring to the now released LifeDrive. Of course that was a failure.

Michael Mace said...

Anonymous wrote:

>>It was discovered that he was referring to the now released LifeDrive. Of course that was a failure.

That's not correct. First, the LifeDrive was introduced in May of 2005, several months before the Jeff Hawkins interview. Second, Ed discussed the LifeDrive separately in his talk today.

Palmdoc said...

I hope it won't turn out like Dean Kamen's "revolutionary invention" which people hinted at and when it turned out to be a fancy electric scooter.....

Anonymous said...

That interview turned out to have been recorded BEFORE the LifeDrive was released, even though it was published afterwards.

the secret project IS/HAS BEEN the DeathDrive.

Surur

Anonymous said...

Surur,

Lifedrive was a palm-developed product, not a handspring-led effort. Why do you keep insisting on something that is clearly wrong? Are you calling Mike Mace a liar?

Anonymous said...

Lifedrive was a palm-developed product, not a handspring-led effort.

How is this relevant? Palm bought Handspring in 2003, Palmone released the lifedrive nearly two years later.

The interview was published the 8/July 2005 and may have been written weeks before.

Last month, he spoke with Technology Editor Janet Rae-Dupree about what his earlier experiences have taught him and what he envisions for the future of computing.
http://sanjose.bizjournals.com/sanjose/stories/2005/07/11/smallb2.html?t=printable

The LifeDrive was only announced on the 18 May 2006, and jeff made no mention of the device during the whole interview. In fact he only talks about the Treo.

http://www.palm.com/us/company/pr/2005/051805a.html

Sorry, but this is just looking for good news where there is none.

Surur

Michael Mace said...

Relax, everybody. We're arguing back and forth about belief. The only thing to do is wait until next year and see what happens. At the end of December 2007 we can caucus here again and decide who was right.

In the meantime, my two cents to y'all is that based on the context of the conversation at Ed's talk, and the other people I've talked to, I am 100% confident that there is some sort of new-category product in the works. But the people who've seen it are sticking admirably to their nondisclosure agreements.

Unfortunately ;-)


Palmdoc wrote

>>I hope it won't turn out like Dean Kamen's "revolutionary invention" which people hinted at and when it turned out to be a fancy electric scooter...

In fairness to Palm, they're doing an order of magnitude less hinting around than Segway did. Segway had a teaser website, and I believe they were deliberately hinting about the product for a long time.

Palm has only done a couple of interviews, and then responded to a question I asked. They didn't raise the subject.

Anonymous said...

"The comments about a new category of device were from a year ago. It was discovered that he was referring to the now released LifeDrive. Of course that was a failure."

Considering the question was only asked yesterday and the answer was "yes" and not "Sorry, you're thinking of the LifeDrive", it seems we indeed DO have something to look forward to next year. My guess is that it leans toward the UMPC catagory.

Anonymous said...

Michael,
What else did Ed have to say? You mentioned that he discussed the LifeDrive, what did he say about it?

Michael Mace said...

Hey, Tully.

I'm working on the full write-up and will post it in a few days. Sorry, not tying to be coy -- I've just got to tend to my day job.

Anonymous said...

How about the Sony Mylo? I think that is a pretty interesting device with that combination of bundled software. It is lacking an e-mail client, and I am not sure if WiFi is a realistic 'always on' internet method - maybe in US but certainly not here in NZ.

Now imagine if it had a cellular 3G broadband module (EV-DO, W-CDMA/HSDPA) and direct access to the Sony Music Store? Mobile network monthly data prices are getting cheap enough that 'My Life Online' becomes realistic.

tim

Anonymous said...

I don't care. If Palm makes it, I won't buy it.

I have two paperweights full of data I can't use fully because they won't support Windows XP Media Center Edition.

I won't be burned twice.

Anonymous said...

Surur, you are dead wrong. It is NOT the LD. There IS something new and it's getting closer everyday. Don't worry about what it IS - as it's what it allows you to DO that's more relevant. It will become central to your life. Wish I could say more, but keep your eyes peeled next year. :)

Anonymous said...

Come on guys - you are all short sighted. It's going otbe a handheld personal web server so you can post your own everything and manage the content available to the world. Take pictures and they instantly appear online without upload, host games, scan payments at grocerie stores, etc..

A Personal Server - pretty soon everyone in the world will have their own portable web server.

KushCash said...

I look forward to it whatever it is. Maybe. I think.

David said...

Ping! Still looking forward to your "full write-up," Mike, although I realize that Colligan probably didn't have anything else to say about their still-secret project.

Like you, I'm still "desperately seeking the info pad." While something tells me Palm wants to stick with palm-sized devices, I'm hoping the new thing will be closer to the device I've been searching for all these years. If not, one of these days I'm actually going to try to hand-build one myself. Just for my own damned use!

Michael Mace said...

David wrote:

>>Still looking forward to your "full write-up," Mike

Thanks, I am too. It'll probably be next week. I have something on Hutchison's new data service, and a little tidbit on the Economist, that I want to finish this week.

Also, if anyone's interested in trivia, I've been slow to post in the last two weeks because I'm spending a lot of time setting up a new template for Mobile Opportunity. I know it's just cosmetics, but I'm sick of this one. Debugging the template is taking a lot of time, but I'm learning some HTML and CSS skills that I should have picked up years ago.


>>I realize that Colligan probably didn't have anything else to say about their still-secret project.

Nope, but I have a tidbit for you. I was talking to someone who supposedly knows someone who know stuff, and I mentioned the Hawkins project.

"Is that different from the Linux tablet they're doing?" this person said.

If I had to guess today, based on the very fragmentary hints I've heard, I'd expect:

--Something slightly larger than a handheld.

--WiFi based.

--A large amount of local storage.

--Syncs with, and acts as a light client to, your PC (and perhaps also a data store on the Web).

The key thing I don't know is what specific problems the device would be designed to solve. The rumors I've heard so far are more focused on hardware features. The "zen" is in the solution.


>>Like you, I'm still "desperately seeking the info pad." While something tells me Palm wants to stick with palm-sized devices, I'm hoping the new thing will be closer to the device I've been searching for all these years.

Yeah, that's why my ears pricked up when that person said "Linux tablet."


>>If not, one of these days I'm actually going to try to hand-build one myself. Just for my own damned use!

Build two, I'll buy one from you.

David Beers said...

Oooo la la! That's blog-o-licious, Mike!

David Beers said...

Deliver me, Palm! My critical "stuff" is spread across multiple PCs, servers, file drawers and desktops in two different states and I can't find anything that will adequately enable me to capture it and let me retrieve it when and where I need it. Smartphones, PDAs, laptops, UMPCs, web servers... all have tantalizing pieces of what I need, but none put it together into something that works for me. I sure hope this is the device that finally does it.

Mike Galpin said...

It seems to me that the success of the new device is linked to trying to get the wireless cell provides to behave more like fixed line broadband providers.

Colligan asserts that we will all have broadband routers in our pockets and I can see why. I have long considered my cell phone to be most useful as a bridge - between the voice networks and a headset and between the data networks and a PDA. I want this bridge device to be as simple as possible - like a cable or DSL modem and it can be given away with a service plan. The smarts for using the networks should be in the devices connected (wirelessly) to the bridge. Critically any device capable of connecting to the bridge should have full access to the capabilities of the service plan in use - no more crippled Bluetooth implementations or differentiation between phone, PDA, or laptop data plans.

Of course this reduces the wireless network provider's service to a commodity. Just like current broadband provides can really only compete on speed and price, so the network providers would differentiate only on the quality of their network and price. If they want to sell client devices OK but it would be rather like the cable company selling PC's or TV's. Naturally most of their customers are happy with 1 device to carry not 2 or more because the wireless carriers are in the phone service business not the mobile computing business. It might actually make the handset vendors life easier if the bridge device was a detachable part - build 1 handset model and let the network provider supply the appropriate bridge module.

Colligan needs a change in the business model of the network carriers to fully realize the use of the router in your pocket for his new device.

The other items I'd look for are size and keeping up with the standards.

No device bigger than the LifeDrive is any use as a PDA. If I cannot easily carry it on my person I'll never use it. I can see putting a small tablet on my coffee table for home automation or light browsing but not much else. PDA's trade power and flexibility for cost and immediate access to information through presence and ease of use. UMPC is not that interesting because it compromises on all of these factors - Palm's new device needs to avoid the same pitfalls, because if I have to reach into a bag to pull out the device I might as well carry a laptop.

Palm has failed miserably to keep up to date with the standards governing how it's products connect to the rest of the world. Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, SD cards, even the supported operating systems for it's synchronization software are all suffering from short sighted product management. Blackberry Connect seems to be the latest victim as the only supported device - the Treo 650 - is discontinued before the any other device is capable of running the software.

The new project may spark new innovation at Palm but they must understand that it's success depends on entities outside their control - and they have to learn to deal with that.

Mike

P.S. He's wrong - at least in my use case - about the LifeDrive. It's not all that much bigger than a the video IPod but 2 crucial features pushed me to buy the IPod in addition to my LifeDrive. First Apple delivered the digital camera connection Palm could only promise and then forget and second capacity of the hard disk means I don't have to make choices about which music I carry with me.

Michael Mace said...

Excellent comments, Mike. I found myself nodding in agreement as I read them. A couple of thoughts...


>>It seems to me that the success of the new device is linked to trying to get the wireless cell provides to behave more like fixed line broadband providers.

It depends on whether there will be a cellular radio in the new device. If not, then they're betting on the growth of WiFi to bypass the operators.


>>I have long considered my cell phone to be most useful as a bridge - between the voice networks and a headset and between the data networks and a PDA. I want this bridge device to be as simple as possible - like a cable or DSL modem and it can be given away with a service plan.

Nice. The EVDO network is finally fast and low-latency enough to make that useful (if you live in the US).


>>Of course this reduces the wireless network provider's service to a commodity. Just like current broadband provides can really only compete on speed and price, so the network providers would differentiate only on the quality of their network and price.

Right on. I saw Sprint talk about its plan for WiMax a couple of weeks ago, and that's basically how they said they'd compete in the future. I was astonished. I'm going to write that up early in the new year.


>>It might actually make the handset vendors life easier if the bridge device was a detachable part - build 1 handset model and let the network provider supply the appropriate bridge module.

Nice idea.


>>No device bigger than the LifeDrive is any use as a PDA. If I cannot easily carry it on my person I'll never use it.

Yup. At Palm, they used to have this great mantra: Where does the device live? In your pocket or your briefcase? If it's in your briefcase it competes with your notebook computer.

The one exception I can picture would be a note-taking device that replaces the journals most of us carry to meetings. That's the info pad concept I keep yammering about.


>>I can see putting a small tablet on my coffee table for home automation or light browsing but not much else.

I'd use it for reading e-books, but a whole iTunes-like infrastructure would need to go along with it. Maybe that's what Amazon's new product will be. There's another thing I want to write about...


>>PDA's trade power and flexibility for cost and immediate access to information through presence and ease of use. UMPC is not that interesting because it compromises on all of these factors

I think you're absolutely right.

Really good stuff, Mike. Please drop by anytime.