Rants, Raves, Reviews

Reminiscing on Palm

By Gary R, in , posted: 29-Mar-2006 12:15

Palms' 10th birthday, it makes you realise that just a measly 10 years is an absolute life time in the word of technology. It is Proabably comparable to 65 million years of evolution. 

Few people would be aware of how the original Pilot made it to NZ and how in a lot of ways NZ embraced the PDA concept more than other countries. Modestly speaking I did have some involvement.

Back in late 96 I accepted a position as a Product Manager at Insite Technology (now Renaissance). There was a catch though; I would be a PM without a product range. The challenge was to look at new products to create a portfolio from scratch. One product that was kicking around at the time was Pilot, a new fangled product that promised to revolutionise the fledging electronic organiser market. 

I wasn't convinced but with an open mind I purchased a couple of Pilot 1000's out of the US. In those days the US was the only market where Pilot was sold. 

I remember receiving my goodies, opening the box, reading a few instructions and putting in the batteries for the first time. Well that was it from the first power on and sync I was hooked. My Pilot became a regular accessory on my belt and I never left home without it. Suddenly I didn't have to remember anything. My PDA knew all. It became a constant conversation piece at dinner parties and pubs. People would look at me with disbelief when I shared my vision that 'one day everyone will have one of these'. I was convinced!

We decided to have a go at selling these PDA things without the 'official word' from Pilot, they were to busy servicing the US market to be interested in NZ. That meant buying them from Ingram Micro in the US - sort of under the radar importing. Well it didn't take long for Pilot to become aware of what we were doing and they contacted us to tell us to stop. Of course we said ‘no’ so Pilot realising that they couldn't stop us decided to make Insite their first 'official' distributor outside the US. I remember the distribution agreement was a one page 'letter of intent' which showed that Pilot was in the early days of formulating their international strategy.

We started out by talking to the electronics retailers with a view to emulating the approach Pilot was taking in the US. Very simply, create a consumer demand first to drive demand from business. Well it worked in the US but it didn't work here. Retailers were sceptical and not prepared to risk precious floor or shelf space on a new, unproven category. That meant going to plan B. Which, broadly speaking was to attack the market around the other way. Create business demand to drive consumer demand which would in turn force retailers to stock the product. Great idea but very, very hard work. I can remember meeting with lots of government departments and corporates to share the PDA vision. I was the only person around the table with a PDA but I was convinced that that would change. 

In the first year we sold a massive 500 units and we were actually quite chuffed with our performance. Slowly but surely business started to adopt the product. They could see benefits in equipping their staff with electronic rather than paper based calendars. They could see the improvements in efficiency with staff carrying electronic contacts. Within 2 years, the market had started to take off and all of sudden the retailers started to take an interest. Shelf space that wasn't available before suddenly cleared like Moses parting the Red Sea. There was training to conduct, collateral to organise and marketing strategies to formulate.

We were driving the Enterprise. Large scale deployments were starting to happen and the consumer market was about to kick into high gear. Suddenly Palm (as they now were) started to notice a change in the little NZ market and they had to find out more. Palm representatives came to NZ and met with us to understand how we had won over business. You see, the Palm strategy of focusing on consumer had left them a bit light on experience when it came time to drive adoption into business. Even though we were forced to take the plan B approach it had actually paid off and now Palm wanted to know how we had done it. 

By the time I left Insite (some 3 years later) sales had reached 1000 units per month up from a start of 42 units per month.

I still have in my collection - Pilot5000, PalmPilot Professional, Palm III (very rare transparent plastic case), PalmV, Treo 600 and Treo 650, Kyocera 6035 and 7135. I also have a Novatel CDPD Minstral Palm modem - the CDPD network might have gone but I still have the product.

Other related posts:
I Thought I would Come Back
Unemployment does get boring
Over the 'i'

Permalink to Reminiscing on Palm | Add a comment (8 comments) | Main Index

Comment by freitasm, on 29-Mar-2006 14:16

The USA and Brazil - I bought my US Robotics Palm 1000 in 96 by mail order. It was really exciting to get the PDA out of the box, and to have it on me - people wouldn' believe what it could do :-)

Comment by freitasm, on 29-Mar-2006 14:19

Sorry, also meant to say yours is a good story...

Author's note by Jama, on 29-Mar-2006 14:31

Forgot to add, I got so proficient at graffiti I could write (scratch) about 30 words per minute. It ruined my real writing I kept writing graffiti characters on paper!

Comment by paradoxsm, on 30-Mar-2006 03:03

I still have my USrobotics Pilot. it was one of like 20 in the country when I got it, I squeezed so much from the little thing. Someone whom worked for celldirect (remember them?) handed it down to me when he spilt liquid on it.. at this stage I was a mere kid of 17 and worked at DSE. This little baby started my mobile device obsession. CDPD.. woah, scary.. I still have the CDPD sierra wireless gear from the yacht race, when did it get canned? I remember a trial of WAP over CDPD on a modified Ericsson 1228di which I still have. Close friend now owns Celldirect which is now defunct...... memories.

Author's note by Jama, on 30-Mar-2006 08:04

CDPD was shut down about 3 years ago. The network was packed into a container and sold to an American company. I still have quite a bit of CDPD gear. What a great network it was, slow but IP.

Comment by juha, on 31-Mar-2006 16:15

Shame the 650 isn't EV-DO... I think there's a CDMA model in the States though. Hmm, nice plans they have for the 700w: http://web.palm.com/products/communicators/config/plan_details.jhtml?_requestid=98184

Comment by paradoxsm, on 2-Apr-2006 15:15

Keep that CDPD gear,, like all my old stuff, it's getting rather collectable. (how years FLY) I'm glad I retained old "junk"

Comment by taniwha, on 3-Apr-2006 09:00

I didn't buy a palm until the Tungsten T.. before that is was all psions, and one philips Nino. I wish nokia would get their act together. We ordered the 770 back in November, and it's still oscillating between "shipping" and "pending" on the nokiausa.com website.... maybe they dont' exist?

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Gary R
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