Interview: USR's Ed Colligan on the future of palmtops

With US Robotics' Palm Computing division set to release a lower-cost, lower memory version of its highly fashionable Pilot handheld next month, PCDN spoke to VP of marketing Ed Colligan about the Pilot the development of the palmtop market.The Pilot has had rave reviews in the press and has achieved huge word-of-mouth coverage.

With US Robotics' Palm Computing division set to release a lower-cost, lower memory version of its highly fashionable Pilot handheld next month, PCDN spoke to VP of marketing Ed Colligan about the Pilot the development of the palmtop market.

The Pilot has had rave reviews in the press and has achieved huge word-of-mouth coverage. How have sales matched up?

I can't give numbers but we're very happy with the returns we're seeing. It's getting into the channels and they seem happy with the product. Some companies put out a press release that says 'we sold 30,00 in the first month', but you never hear what happened to them. We've sold more in our first few months than some of our competitors have sold in a year. We've had zero returns and 95 per cent of buyers say they're very satisfied.

Although the price is low compared to some other products in the category, some people in the UK were dismayed at how much more expensive the Pilot was here compared to the US.

It was $299 in the US and £279 (including VAT) in the UK but it wasn't just the old 'change the dollar sign to a pound sign' thing. There were some considerations like VAT and setting up a distribution channel. We wanted to be just as competitive in the UK as we are in the US. One of our biggest competitors [Psion] is from the UK, and in the UK, so it would be pretty nuts for us to price ourselves out of the market. Believe me, it's no windfall for us, nobody's running round shouting 'Whoa!!'

What was the genesis of the Pilot?

We've been in the business for four years. We were a palmtop software and connectivity Silicon Valley startup. We did the Graffiti handwriting recognition software that was licensed by Apple for the Newton, Sharp for the Zoomer and Hewlett-Packard (HP) for the LX, and we did all the connectivity software for the HP. But the business wasn't growing fast and it's hard to be an add-on company in that situation. We felt we had the right idea for a product so we thought we would try it. About a year ago, we spoke to US Robotics (USR) about a modem for the device and they liked the product so much they bought the company.

We had five major objectives. First, we wanted it shirt pocket-sized. If you want all your personal data you should be able to carry it in something like a wallet, not something like a suitcase. Second, the input had to be intuitive. Third, you had to have seamless connectivity to your PC... one touch of a button. We felt it should be a PC companion and not a standalone device. Fourth, it should be upgradable and expandable so users could grow with the product. Finally, it should be great value.

Will it be a changing single product or a line of products?

There will be a family of products. You'll see a suite of products. Over the next year we'll see a broader line with various communications and application functionality. We want to add e-mail and financial management.

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