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Failing to Follow Through

Lately I’ve been thinking about companies and their one hit wonder mentalities.

Take Compaq, for example. Their iPaq was a revolution for the pocket pc platform, and it, along with the change from Pocket Windows (ie, Windows CE, trying to duplicate Windows on mobile devices) to Pocket PC (which tried to think outside the desktop) really did revolutionize an alternative for the marketplace from the Palm PDA. Pocket PC and the iPaq, for the first time, gave you one helluva system that made you mobile and light. I have my iPaq in my breast pocket right now, and it is light enough that I had to look twice before typing this sentence, just to make sure it was there. Compaq had a huge hit, and was responsible for some 75% (not exact) of all Pocket PC appliance sales in the US the last 12 months.

But now round two is upon us, and the PPC platform that Compaq dominated might be gone for them. Why? Because they rested on their laurels, and didn’t innovate enough with their generation 2 device. The biggest drawback to the iPaq, besides the quality control issues that have plagued it was the fact that while others PPC devices had built in removable storage, the iPaq didn’t have this option. You had to add a sleeve to it, which turned the smallest and lightest PPC device into one of the biggest and heaviest. Sleeves were a good trade off, given that the iPaq had 32mb of RAM, which when it was released was huge. But 32mb isn’t enough with MP3 popularity and the fact that you could play full movies on the iPaq.

So what did Compaq do for Gen 2? Innovate even further? They should have done three things.

  1. add a Compact Flash (CF) slot to their iPaq form factor
  2. add 802.11b wireless connectivity into the device
  3. jam up the RAM to 128mb.

They didn’t do any of these things. Instead, we got 64mb ram. Nice, but every other new device on the market has the same amount. Compaq was innovative by doubling the ram everyone else was using (32 vs 16) for the previous device. Not this time around. They doubled their own, but everyone else quadrupled their ram.

One of the new iPaqs has bluetooth built in. I like bluetooth, but tell me… how many people have a bluetooth wireless network in their homes or offices? Forget bluetooth enabled notebooks… but WiFi (802.11b) is ubiquitous these days in many offices. I have it in my home. They should have gone WiFi.

Lastly, the CF issue. Most PPC users I know, and especially iPaq owners I know have a sizeable investment in CF cards. I myself have close to a gig in cards – 2 256mb cards, 2 128mbs, and a couple of 64s, 32s, and 16s. In fact, when I buy a new appliance that uses removable storage (like a digicam or mp3 player or LCD photoframe, or a printer), I make sure it uses CF cards before I buy.

But if I upgrade to the new iPaqs, I’ll have to ditch my CF cards and buy Secure Digital cards, cards I don’t want anyway because of all the restrictions built in, but also because they are a) more expensive than CF, and b) don’t have the storage sizes CF enjoys. It is this reason more than any other that will prevent me from buying another iPaq. Other devices, namely the Toshiba eGenio and the new NEC PPC device have both CF and SD slots built in, and are smaller than the iPaq!

Compaq really dropped the ball.

Another company that dropped the ball is Volkswagen. Their new Beetle was a huge hit. Huge. But they failed to follow through on it. A lot of people I know liked the Beetle, but were waiting for a convertible model to come out before possibly buying one as their next car. I remember Volkswagen saying that a convertible Beetle would hit North American shores a year after the Beetle came out. It didn’t arrive. Europe got it, but North America didn’t. Volkswagon also failed to improve greatly on the initial model, which did suffer from some complaints. The car had potential “rally” like ability but required a different drive train. Companies like Subaru would innovate in their line, noteably the Imprezza which a few years after being revamped in N. America, was revamped again in the form of the WRX model. I consider the Imprezza and the Beetle to be in the exact same class of vehicles, but I would go for an Imprezza WRX in a second if I had the cash and needed a new car, even though when the Beetle first came out, I swore it would be my next car… in a convertible. So where is it Volkswagen?

And lastly, Palm. Palm is even worse off than Compaq. Palm has consistently failed to innovate for about 2 years now. The last revolutionary product they came out with was the Palm V, and even that had restraints – it should have been an 8mb device from the get-go, but Palm decided to increment it, making the Vx, released some 8 months later, an 8mb device. Palm’s going to tank, really soon. I expect Apple to buy it (ed.note, Apple didn’t buy it, HP did).



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