As Om reported yesterday, Palm killed the FOLEO.Â Great!Â It was a still-born project from the start, as I pointed out (among a long list of others) in May when it launched at D3.Â Fundamentally it speaks to the ability of companies to be overrun by rock star engineers, many of whom are guilty of overthinking products or designing for markets which do not (yet) exist.Â Â The cancellation of the project, though it cost Palm over $10M (according to the Associated Press) and a lot of credibility, shows that there are cooler heads prevailing in management who are not caught up in the cult of Jeff Hawkins.
This hatchet job might be the handiwork of Bono‘s Elevation Partners, which recently took a stake in Palm, and more specifically Jon Rubinstein, a former Apple executive who ran its iPod division before joining Palm as Executive Chairman as a part of that private equity investment.
The press release insists that there will be a FOLEO II while giving no specific timeline.Â This is really just code for a little bit of face-saving for Hawkins, who is practically beatified in Silicon Valley along with iPod creator Tony Fadell.
While pulling a product so soon after launch may look like a bit of a black eye, the other option (ceding reality to their competitors while pushing a product that no one can see a use for) was probably far worse.Â At any rate, it’s a reminder of the fact that Silicon Valley culture can be far too inward-looking.Â Spend any amount of time there and you start to assume that the regular world is just like it, and the cold reality for Palm is that the Wal-Mart nation has much different, less complicated needs, and that product designers need to engage themselves as much as possible with the general public.Â As I tried to point out on FoRK, if you only build products for people like you, then you should only expect to sell them to people like you.Â Empathy is a key character trait of good product designers, and if your lifestyle, wealth, society, and work separate you substantially from the real people who live in the mass market, then it becomes extremely difficult for you to remain empathetic to their daily problems, needs, dreams, and challenges.
Apparently there just aren’t too many people like Jeff Hawkins anymore.