In a rare candid interview, we sat down with Fake Ed Colligan, chief executive officer of Palm Computing. Ed graciously agreed to a conversation with us to discuss a number of relevant issues including Palm's troubled past and market missteps in the handset industry. So let's get to it.
TIB: Ed, first off I want to thank you for taking time out from your schedule to speak with us. I'm sure you're a very busy guy these days, what with the board transition, the Elevation Partners deal, and shareholder approval.
Ed: Oh, not all. My pleasure. In fact I'm really not that busy these days.
TIB: Oh? You mean you delegate authority to other members of Palm's executive team?
Ed: Well, no. By that I mean there really isn't that much to do. Treo sales are falling, and there's not a lot we seem to be able to do about that right now, other than watch sales descend. You know...sort of on a downward trajectory.
TIB: I see. But have you given thought as to what your company might do in terms of a change in strategy to...reverse that trend?
Ed: laughter Well, Kent...it's not that simple. I mean - look, we are in a very competitive market right now. And consumers and business customers are beginning to demand more from our products than we can deliver on. You know, it used to be easy for us. Our product strategy was...just rehash the same old products year after year, making very incremental improvements, a few tweaks here and there, and repackage them as new SKUs. Customers actually bought into that. You know, sort of like a high school girl with low self esteem; she never expected to snag the star quarterback so she settled for the class nerd. That sort of thing. It gave us a real competitive edge to have that kind of loyalty.
We lost that advantage. Competition has changed the rules, and reset expectations. Now we may as well be selling dead rats in a box. Frankly our customers just aren't as dumb as they once were, and that poses a real challenge for us. Take the Treo 680 line. We took our existing product...the 650 - snipped off the antenna - painted it in different color schemes and presented it as a "new" product. At one time our loyal customers would shit themselves at the mere sight of a new Treo. Even rumors about our upcoming products had people jumping. They really got off on that kind of thing. Now, pfffft. They don't care. They just don't care. It's tough. TIB: I understand. Ok, speaking of dead rats, let's talk about your platform. PalmOS has pretty much reached its end of life, and yet it still remains on shipping devices. Why is that?
Ed: Well there you begin to see our problem. It goes back to what I just said. We are working very hard to convince customers that our products, and platform, are both competitive and state of the art. And to be blunt; pulling the wool over the eyes of our customers is...just not as easy as it once was . I think the acuteness level has gone up dramatically. Consumer perceptiveness is up there now. raises hand in the air
TIB: Right, but what about your platform strategy? Obviously you intend to wholly replace the Palm operating system with a succeeding platform based on Linux, that you have in development at this moment. How are you coming along with that and how soon will we see it shipping on devices?
Ed: sighs Pfffft. Honestly Kent, I couldn't tell ya. I really couldn't. You know I'm on the phone with these guys in Platform Development every day, chewing asses out. But all I get is a bunch of crap about difficulties in merging legacy architectures with with some new host framework. Hey, I don't even know what the hell any of it means. I just keep telling them...GET IT DONE. TIB: When will it be "done" do you think?
Ed: Who knows. Maybe in Q2 of next year, maybe it will slip to Q3. I don't know. What I do know is this new platform isn't going to fail like that last one that PalmSource developed. Remember Cobalt? Jesus, what an unmitigated disaster that turned out to be, huh? We waited around for two years for those idiots at PalmSource to bake their OS, and they hand us a plate full of sh...well, it was bad. Thank God we've been able to limp along with Garnet as long as we have.
TIB: Speaking of PalmSource. Describe to me your relationship with your former OS division, and Access, who later acquired them.
Ed: sigh Kent, I tell you. rubbing forehead I could write a book about these clowns, I really could. And David Nagel, their former CEO? That leftover from Apple's refrigerator? He sank the company faster than I could sync my Treo. laughter Oh God what a nutjob. I mean, to give you an example; you just brought up Garnet, our legacy operating system. What the hell kind of name is that for a product? It sounds like an old Jewish woman. These are the kinds of management decisions this screwball made. I rest my case.
But that's all in the past now. As you know Access acquired PalmSource a few years ago, so that's...water under the bridge. I guess. shrugs
TIB: Tell me about Access
Ed: silence Let me ask you, Kent. Have you ever depended on someone? I mean depended on someone for your well being. You know, like your future depended on their actions, or outcome of their actions? And then have that person screw you to the wall. Not only to the wall, but actually all the way through it, till you came out the other side? Well it's kinda like that, only more serious.
They led us down a dead end street. A dark and lonely street filled with hungry wolves, and buzzards circling overhead. They took our former intellectual property, our platform, and ran away with it. Leaving us with our thumbs up our...well, they screwed us is what they did. So now we have to scramble like crazy to get this new Linux thing, whatever the hell it is, out the door and into devices, like yesterday. So we got slapped with a double whammy of PalmSource incompetence, followed by a hit and run by Access. sigh
TIB: Access is working on a parallel platform based on Linux as well. Have you thought about licensing their software.
Ed: laughter Oh, you were serious? Sorry I took that as a joke. No. Hell no, we're not going anywhere near that company or its software. We intend to take our share of the intellectual property and escape with our lives. Those bast...well, they can just forget signing us on as licensee for ALP, ALPO or whatever the hell they call that Linux platform they peddle. We're gone.
TIB: Speaking of things going away. Tell me about Foleo. What was the deal with this product? How did its conception come about?
Ed: See, here again I come back to my earlier point about customer perceptiveness. They're catching on to us, and now even before we get these products out the door.
Foleo started out something like this: We had this idea; wouldn't it be great if we took a laptop, crippled it with low-end hardware, stripped away all the useful but costly components, and installed some funky Linux OS on it, saving licensing costs from Microsoft. We'll call it something other than a laptop, even though that's all it really was, and charge as much for it as a notebook PC. We figured...hey, it worked for us before, it'll work again.
Unfortunately customers, and the media, attacked it. Rather vigorously so...to say the least. So, what with shareholders and analysts riding me, and Engadget posting that unfavorable story about us, I had no choice but to scrap it. Foleo kind of blew up in my face, but in this industry you live and learn. Perseverance. That's the key. TIB: But who was its target market?
Ed: Anyone stupid enough to buy it. Anyone we could find. Would you like one, Kent? I have truckloads of these things just sitting in boxes. We took a bath on this deal. I'll be giving Foleos away as Christmas gifts to family and friends, whether they've been naughty or nice. You know what I'm saying? laughter
TIB: Let's talk about the competition for a second. Back in January at the Churchill Club event, just after Apple unveiled iPhone, you were quoted as saying something to the effect that, and I'm paraphrasing here, "Apple isn't just going to walk in and get it right." Do you remember saying that?
TIB: But the iPhone has in fact largely proven to be hugely successful. Reviews are positive. Analysts see the product and technology as innovative. Consumer satisfaction is higher than any other smartphone. And Apple recently announced that, in the space of 76 days, they have sold more iPhones than you sell Treos in an entire quarter.
Ed: Yep. I know.
Yeah, what can I say? I throw my hands up; guilty! laughs Sometimes we say things that come back to bite us right in the ass. And that's certainly not one of my best quotes, I'll grant you that. But don't count us out just yet, because we're not done yet. This game is only just beginning. The battle has...has...just barely gotten underway and we have not yet begun to fight. We're putting on our battle uniforms, you know? We got our helmets on, all polished up. And we're in it to win it.
TIB: You say Palm is ready for battle, and the fight has only just begun. But that's not entirely accurate, is it? I mean hasn't the battle, as you call it, been going on for more than several years now? Aren't you guys a bit late to the party.
Ed: silence Speaking of late. Gosh, look at the time. I'd love to stay and chat with you some more but I really do have to hit the bricks.
TIB: Alright, Ed. You show those bricks who's boss. Thanks.
Ed: Thank you.
*disclaimer: the above interview is parody and entirely fictional. The opinions and views expressed belong solely to the voices in my head. No Palm executives were harmed in the making of this article. Void where prohibited.
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