Better Than New

Palm’s Folly, er…Foleo by morepete
May 30, 2007, 2:28 pm
Filed under: Failure to Innovate, Snark

By Pete Mortensen 

If we had any lingering doubts about Palm’s inability to compete with Nokia, Motorola and Apple, look no further than the Foleo, the big-deal product launch the former PDA market-leader unveiled at today’s D — All Things Digital conference.

No, go ahead. Look at it in the picture above. Can’t pick it out? It’s the generic-looking laptop next to the Treo. Yes, Jeff Hawkins, the company founder who once discovered the market opportunity for digital organizers in the early 1990s, has discovered the market opportunity for the laptop computer — only 16 years after the first PowerBooks hit the market. And it’s almost as capable as those machines were themselves!

You see, the Foleo isn’t a full computer — it’s crippled hardware that relies on owning a Palm Treo to connect to the Internet. Hawkins apparently took far too literally people saying they wanted a larger keyboard and a bigger display for their Treos and concluded that he could make an accessory that did just that. And the Ta-Da! turns into a Ta-Dull, as a co-worker of mine says.

This product is dead out of the water. It is decidedly uncapable, and it can only reach the market of Treo owners who don’t already own laptops. No one wants another laptop-sized device to put in their bag. They might want a replacement for their current laptop, but they don’t want to do it by giving up so much storage or capability.

I’m almost foaming. It’s a sad, deeply wrong-headed idea that Hawkins claims took five years to come to market. In that same five years, Apple built its iPod empire and moved on to phones, RIM emerged as a serious contender, and Windows Mobile caught and passed the Palm OS. It’s just sad.


Processor Wars Tainting OLPC Movement by morepete
May 23, 2007, 6:23 am
Filed under: Context for Innovation, Snark

By Pete Mortensen 

The always cantankerous Om Malik very insightfully exposes some chaos in the world of philanthropic computing. The One Laptop Per Child initiative hasn’t even officially started to bring $150 computers to rural Africa, and competitive territorialism that has nothing to do with education is breaking out. The innovative computer is based on an AMD chip, Intel is launching a rival device, and everybody’s getting ugly. AMD even took the occasion to release a press release about Intel’s anti-competitive practices in the U.S. and Europe.

As you know, AMD filed an anti-trust lawsuit against Intel in U.S. federal court. The European Union is also likely to share the conclusions of their exhaustive investigation of Intel’s business practices in the very near future as well.

Which is hugely relevant to the question of who has created the computer most likely to fuel the development of rural economies in Africa, I’m sure.

Om’s essential question here is still the elephant in the room when we look to technology to fix really big problems:

“What is a kid who goes to a school with rampant teacher absenteeism, no infrastructure to speak of –like desks, fans or electricity to run those fans –going to do with a laptop?”

While I do think that OLPC falls within the designing for social change principle to make capabilities accessible, but this project did assume the outcome of its research. The question remains whether it was the right problem to solve in the first place.

On a related note, Jessi Hempel at BusinessWeek writes about a contest to develop the best possible game for OLPC XO, with a prize of an XO at stake. Doesn’t that seem a bit backwards? If I won that competition, I assure you that the spoils would be headed to Africa, not my apartment….

‘Design Thinking’ Over the Hill as a Fad by morepete
May 21, 2007, 8:28 pm
Filed under: Design Thinking Fad, Snark

By Pete Mortensen 

Bruce Nussbaum highlights a quote from Diego Rodriguez at IIT’s Strategy Conference that I think is as good a measure of the health of current thought around innovation as any:

“Design thinking can be used to formulate business plans for new ventures.” Which, while true, doesn’t tell me why anyone who isn’t bought into these ideas should care.

A commenter, Rich, follows up with an even more optimistic take:

Design thinking must be used to formulate business plans to ensure successful new ventures.

Now, as excited as I am about the possibilities created when an iterative approach to creation is applied to new field after new field, I think it’s a step too far to call such an experiment a necessity that will ensure success.

On the other hand, I think Diego’s a bit behind the curve if he thinks that design thinking-driven business planning is brand new. Of course it can be used to formulate business plans for new ventures. That, in itself, doesn’t answer the most important question here: Will they be good business plans for successful new ventures?

Everyone is excited about design thinking these days, but I think we’re in for trouble if we view the innovation landscape solely through that lens. Great innovations are most likely to succeed when they are built on equal parts culture, design and business. Hybrid thinking, fluent in each of these domains, is more important when you look beyond the development of individual products. A lot of prototyping, by itself, does not a great business plan make.

If we want the current innovation boom to be more than a punchline in business courses 5 years from now, we need to see underneath the fad we’re currently a part of to discern the enduring ideas that will help promote long-term, sustainable growth in economies around the world.

Otherwise, we might as well go back to proclaiming that Six Sigma alone can secure the future of a business, or that the Internet will eliminate world poverty, or that TV will make the education of mass audiences so simple that schools will be unnecessary.

I mean, seriously. Design thinking can also be used to read the newspaper. But that doesn’t matter. Here are the questions to ask: Does it make it better? Does it look noticeably different from existing methods in the world? Does it connect with what people really need? Novelty alone is a dead end.