Palm is failing, and they might need my help.
The Palm Prē was the first in a new line of smartphones from Palm, and it was also the first to display Palm's new operating system, WebOS, which makes multitasking the centerpiece of their design in such a way that it is inextricable from the phone itself. It is beautiful, it is like holding a PC in your hand. I can talk on the phone, take a picture, email the picture to the person I'm talking to, keep a game on pause, and even listen to Pandora if I'm so brazen—all at once.
Multitasking is one of those implementations that destroys previous paradigms. Like what the cell phone did to landlines, one has difficulty living without the newfound convenience. Palm's WebOS multitasks so seamlessly that it makes other attempts by other smartphone makers look half-witted. Especially with the Touchstone wireless charging dock (the first ever for a phone), the phone is time-saver at worst and a masterpiece of convenience at best. And yet, Palm as a company is facing extinction.
Because no one knows how great WebOS is, besides the select few that took the time to find out for themselves. The millions of smartphone shoppers don't know it when they walk in the stores and they don't know it when they leave. They don't know it when they switch their carrier to AT&T and buy an iPhone. It's because Palm isn't telling anyone. Their advertising appears to be based on silly, backward market research that seems to claim that people only care about texting, contact management, and services like facebook on their smartphones. The ads do not push Palm's major advantages and innovations, relegating them to subtle afterthoughts at best.
Upper management has taken some notice with The Palm CEO's Letter to Employees. In the letter, the Palm CEO comments on an initiative called Project JumpStart designed to educate phone store employees on WebOS, and to then educate potential customers. So there's an admission that people don't understand what Palm has to offer, but there's still no full-scale effort to advertise that way on tv, billboards, subways, buses, print, internet, and so on…
Maybe Palm doesn't how to advertise. It's not as silly as it sounds; advertising is difficult because good ideas are often swallowed up by bad executive decisions, interference with the creative process, or air-headed reliance on pigeon-holing market research. Here's one of Palm's first ads for its new operating system and device, illustrating the point that their advertising department may be missing something: Palm Prē and WebOS Commercial.
Time is Running Out…
It's bad enough that Palm has to contend with poor sales and a thinning percentage of a marketplace they helped create. Now the sand is really sifting… because of Apple iPhone Multitasking. Apple has taken slow notice of Palm's innovations, but they are now poised to crush them with the weight of their advertising and mindshare. Just search "iPhone multitasking" and see what happens. And Apple will fill its pockets with more cash, because if there's one thing that Apple knows, it's advertising. Their advertising is so good that they can convince the world they invented mp3 players and smartphones despite the fact that they entered such marketplaces years late. That's power.
The smartphone marketplace is crowded. A device has to distinguish itself, relying on a competitive advantage. Samsung gets it with the new Omnia II. They innovated a new method for texting. And the entire commercial focuses on it! They understand that they have something unique, separating them from Apple, Google, RIM or any other company in the marketplace, and they sell it to the gadget hungry consumer! Palm, you cannot win new customers in a crowded marketplace by making your devices look like everyone else's. All smartphones give notifications and access to Gmail!
But I'm optimistic. I believe in Palm and I love my Prē. I shudder to think of a marketplace dominated by a few giants, squeezing out the potential of Palm and WebOS. I believe they can succeed if they advertise properly. But since Palm may not be sure how, I've come up with a few outlines for ads myself, focusing on billboard or public transportation-type ad spots with a few words packing large ideas.
I hereby fully divest ownership of these ideas, to be used exactly or modified by Palm as they see fit, retaining only the right to personal credit if I should need to make reference on my resume or website.
The ads will follow a format with a slogan-like statement above a picture or graphic (to be decided by Palm) and a tagline-like statement below the picture. They all attempt to highlight the multitasking innovations of WebOS.
Have your phone, internet, applications—and use them too.
Show a picture of the phone with multiple cards open, perhaps two pictures of phones: one for each size of the cards display. The slogan is a play on the cliché, "have your cake and eat it too."
A Phone that does it all. At the same time.
Show some apps for some of the great games available on WebOS (like Need for Speed Undercover) as well as perhaps the phone app or browser app and show a person's thumb in the process of shifting between them. A one, two, three set of pictures in a row could get the idea across. It's also a great way to show off the fact that the phone can be used for many purposes, including gaming.
Putting the "multi" in front of "tasking." Then mixing in the friendly.
Go on, get close.
Show three pictures side by side, one with the expanded card view, one on the close-up card view, and the last on a single app. The idea is to show off the card views and the ease with which one uses it to multitask, as well as the potential to show off some of the great apps available for the phone. Emphasize ease of use and user-friendliness.
Business? Pleasure? How about both?
Business? Pleasure? Both sounds nice.
Discover the magic of having it all.
Show either a single picture with the screen split between two apps in card view or two pictures, each illustrating a choice between two apps. One app should be for a game, or internet reading, or messaging, while the other for a task management app, or a time-management app, or some other business-related application. The idea is to show that the phone can be used for fun or serious work.
There are many more potential ads based on the above themes, but in the interest of brevity, I'll stop here.
I like the underdog, and I like competition, so I'd like to see Palm succeed. But they might need to read my blog. There are plenty of other articles and blogs discussing the demise of Palm as though it were fait accompli. That's not my style. I see a world in which the Prē was but a prelude of devices to come from a company that makes computers fit in the Palm of your hand. To Palm.
———Update: May 4th, 2010———
Looks like Palm was recently purchased by HP: Hewlett-Packard to Buy Palm. The article indicates that HP is interested in WebOS, which I take as good news. The advertising advice still applies. Here's to HP succeeding where Palm failed.
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