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Entries in Technology (77)

Wednesday
May302007

Palm Foleo: Hit or Doomed Thingamabob?

foleo.jpgJust saw today that Palm has released the Foleo, apparently that "other device category" Jeff Hawkins has been talking about for a few years now.

The Foleo (which is at this point an unreleased prototype) is a kind of pseudo sub-notebook thingamabob that enhances a Palm Treo.

Based on what scant technical info offered on the Palm site, the $499 Foleo has a 10" color screen and full-sized keyboard, which syncs via Bluetooth with a Treo for data (email, photos, files, etc.) and piggybacks off of the Treo's wireless connection for web surfing, or can do 802.11b WiFi. It's a full sized "companion" to a Treo and not much more — something like a prosthetic screen and keyboard. :-)

Some of my first questions about this device are:

• Does it operate without the Treo or other handheld? Can I do anything useful on this device without a Treo to get my net connection or to sync mail or photos?

• Who will buy this for $499? Notebooks and the iPhone are available or soon to be available for the same price. As far as I can tell, the Foleo can't stand alone — you must also have a Treo or other handheld device to make it fully useful.

My friend Hal reminded me that 3com produced a short-lived, co-dependent device called the Audrey. This stunted, home-focused thin client lasted all of 8 months before 3com pulled the plug. Is the Foleo the Audrey rehashed for a tiny niche of mobile device users?

If you already have a notebook computer, why would you need this pseudo-subnote-thingamabob? Are there really that many people who would do business travel with only a Treo and a Foleo?

I think the Foleo is going to be another short-lived niche of a niche product.

What do you think?

Michael Mace, a friend and a guy I highly respect, has weighed in on the Palm Foleo, and suggests it is a stealth mobile PC:

But I don't think the Foleo really is a "mobile companion." Back when I started to work at Palm (before the turn of the century) one of the old veterans of the company pulled me aside and passed along a little wisdom. "Michael," he told me, "Ya gotta think in terms of real estate. If you're in another device's real estate, you're competing with that device. Palm lives in your pocket; it competes with other things that go in your pocket. If you get bigger than the pocket, you're living in the briefcase, and you're competing with the notebook computer."

Foleo lives in the briefcase. It's displacing the notebook computer from your bag. I don't care what they call it, I don't care if Palm fully realizes it yet, but the fact is that Foleo's a notebook computer.

More to the point, Foleo is the most significant new consumer PC platform introduced in the US since the Macintosh. All you Linux heads who have been asking for a true consumer Linux PC, you finally got your wish.

I think if Foleo is truly a lightweight notebook that's open to developers, it has a chance. A chance. I'm still not sure if there is a place for a new device between a notebook and smartphone that feels like a stunted, limited, overpriced notebook. Feels like a 3rd wheel to me. But we'll see.

I wish Palm had spent all the time, money and effort refining the Treo or working on the next generation Treo, right now it seems to me they've squandered resources to release a device that's very 1999.

Thursday
Mar012007

BarCamp Madison 2007 + Followup

barcampmadison.gifThis Saturday, March 3rd, I'm heading one hour west to attend BarCamp Madison, in downtown Madison, Wisconsin. I had such a great time last fall at BarCamp Milwaukee 2006, going to this un-conference made sense.

What's BarCamp Madison?

BarCampMadison 2007 is an ad-hoc gathering of high-tech enthusiasts born from the desire for people to share and learn in an open environment. Participants work together and try to create something exciting by being in close proximity to lots of smart people. Each person contributes in some way by leading discussions, demos, asking a question, or volunteering. Read about the first BarCamp in WIRED or news.com.com

You can read about my BarCamp Milwaukee 2006 experience to get a feel for what the event is like. It's a relaxed, friendly people-oriented environment, where techies, artists, hackers and plain ol' people hang out to share and discuss ideas.

Fellow members of Web414 (Milwaukee's Web Community) will be there, including über-hacker Pete Prodoehl. Of course half the fun of BarCamp is meeting and talking to new people. :-)

If you're attending BarCamp Madison, drop me a line and let's meet.

Followup Notes: March 9, 2007
Had a great time at BarCamp Madison, meeting several new friends and learning new things. I had lunch with Tim Bailen at a local Nepali restaurant (yum), hung out with Pete Prodoehl and Ashley Dryden, did a Flat World session with Kevin Ciesielski and met Matthew Pickard with whom I discussed print and web design.

Most inspiring was Sean Johnson's How Not to Burn Your Business to the Ground session, sharing his rules for good business. Even the drive there and back was good for some podcast listening, so it was all good.

Monday
Feb262007

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days Review

Founders at WorkA few weeks ago I received a nice surprise from Apress books: a review copy of Founders at Work by Jessica Livingston.

This 456 page book is a collection of in-depth interviews with the founders of many high-tech startups, like Apple, PayPal, Adobe, Flickr, Six Apart, Blogger, Craigslist, Fog Creek Software, ArsDigita, 37signals and more.

I'm a little over halfway through the book, and have already thoroughly enjoyed the interviews I've read. Especially interesting to me were interviews with Mena Trott of Six Apart, and Evan Williams of Blogger, Joshua Schachter of del.icio.us, Steve Wozniak of Apple, and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37signals, since I've used products they've created.

Jessica asked good, open-ended questions, then let the founders speak freely, for very in-depth, detailed replies. I loved reading Steve Wozniak's interview, which is available in its entirety at the Founders at Work site, along with the full interview of Fog Creek Software's Joel Spolsky. This is a good way to see the depth and style of the interviews featured in the book.

Importance of Flexibility
As I read through the interviews, a common thread emerged — that each of the founders benefitted by remaining flexible and open to change. In many cases, the products which became blockbusters for these startups were internal tools, like Blogger, Basecamp, FogBugz, and Flickr.

With Blogger, Evan Williams and his team had a "real" application in Pyra, when their internal note capturing tool, Blogger, exploded in popularity and forced the team to shift. In Flickr's case, Caterina Fake's team was developing an online game, when they found their social photo tool Flickr was taking off. They reluctantly switched to Flickr, saw it grow and eventually sold it to Yahoo. In each these cases, shifting away from the original product proved quite difficult, though in the end, the choice to shift paid off tremendously for each of the founders.

There were some personal projects, created to fulfill the founders' needs, which turned into popular blockbusters, such as Steve Wozniak's Apple I, Craig Newmark's Craigslist and Joshua Schacter's del.icio.us. In these stories, the products were created because of a passion and a need to fulfill the creator's vision for a tool or service, which in the end became very profitable products.

In other cases the blockbuster products were quite different than the founder's original business plans. For PayPal, the company began as a PDA-centric money exchange utility, which shifted to a web-based money exchange utility when eBay users begged for the service. For Adobe's founders, they intended on creating a complete hardware/software system for publishing, until two potential customers begged for the software which became Adobe Postscript.

Present in each of the stories is that thread of flexibility — to not be too tied to your idea of what will work when the signs are leading elsewhere. I found this fascinating, because so often I've had the idea that every great product was planned that way from the start. Many times this approach seemed to be the exception not the rule.

Sharing Hard Times
In the interviews, I appreciated hearing about the "hard times" from each of the founders. it's natural to think that successful people just breeze through without a scratch — when in reality each of these founders faced tough choices, challenges and in some cases, very hard times. Phillip Greenspun's account of the demise of his company ArsDigita was an eye-opener, as was Evan William's revelation of the tough times he went through founding Blogger.

I'm enjoying Founders at Work, and I know it's a great book, because I can't wait to read the next interview. Reading these founders' stories is encouraging in a way that a step-by-step "1-2-3" book isn't. In the hearing of others' stories, I can relate to my own story and apply lessons these founders can share in my own life.

If you have an interest in tech startups, fascinating stories from many interesting people, Founders at Work is a great read. Who knows, maybe the stories shared in this book will help ignite the passion of technology's next founders.

Thanks to Pete and the kind folks at Apress for the opportunity to read, review and share my thoughts on this excellent book.

Tuesday
Jan092007

iPhone Rockin' the World

iphone.jpgI'm right now spending my lunch break watching the live Macworld Keynote blogging at Engadget, chatting with my good pal Michael Ashby about the iPhone. We are both in shock (in a good way).

The iPhone is a smartphone running some version of Mac OS X, complete with a full web browser (Safari) what look like Widgets, and apps on the device far beyond any mobile phone apps out there.

Watching the Steve Jobs keynote unfold, we both agree that this announcement of the iPhone is big — really big. So big that it could impact nearly every aspect the tech world — mobile phones, smartphones, phone service carriers, PDAs, MP3 players, computers, Mac software developers, and web-based software developers... and probably others I haven't thought of.

From the Engadget live blog:

We've been pushing the state of the art in every facet of this design. We've got the multi-touch screen, miniaturization, OS X in a mobile device, precision enclosures, three advanced sensors, desktop class applications, and the widescreen video iPod. We filed for over 200 patents for all the inventions in iPhone and we intend to protect them."

This is the kind of device I would be compelled to carry, and I've more or less stepped off the PDA bandwagon last year. It's looking that cool and useful.

This is going to be very, very big.

Amazing! Conan O'Brien gives us a sneak peek of everything the iPhone can do! :-)

Related Links:
The Ultimate iPhone FAQ (David Pogue, NYT)
Cingular's iPhone Signup Page
Apple Unveils iPhone (Macworld)
iPhone a 'wake-up call' for the industry (Macworld)
Does the iPhone hit the spot? (CNET)
Investors dump RIM as Apple launches iPhone (Washington Post)
First iPhone Pics (engadget)
Raw commentary on the iPhone announcement (Michael Mace)
Apple's iPhone: That isn't a phone, it's a PDA done right (Michael Mace)
Impact of the Apple iPhone (Michael Mace)
Apple aims to shake up cell phone industry (San Jose Mercury News)
Top 5 Worst Things About The iPhone (Wired Gadget Lab)
iPhone: The Newton's Revenge (Wired Cult of Mac)
The Apple iPhone (Kottke.org)
Apple's New Calling: The iPhone (Time)
iPhone: The Most Revolutionary Device Since 1984 (JeffCroft.com)
iPhone Not Touchy Feely (37signals)
iPhone and the End of PC Era (Om Malik)
The iWipe
You could call iPhone perfect (Andy Ihnatko, Chicago Sun-Times)

Image via Apple.

Saturday
Oct212006

Scrybe: Emerging Online Organizer

Just saw this tool mentioned by Robert Scoble, and had to share it — it's called Scrybe and it looks like a pretty amazing web-based organization tool. It's too hard to easily describe, so instead, check out the video:

I've already signed up to be a beta tester for the October 2006 launch. You can do the same at the link at the base of the Scrybe page.

Check out the Flickr Photo page, which features a Hipster PDA-like printout of your latest data, called PocketSync.

Wonder if they will offer sync to mobile devices?

Very interesting stuff.

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