The Life Unwired with Ben Combee (unwiredben) wrote,
The Life Unwired with Ben Combee

Jakob Neilsen Doesn't Get the Foleo

I just read an article that usability expert Jakob Nielsen wrote about the Palm Foleo mobile companion, a device that my team is developing at Palm. Based on the date on the article, Jakob wrote this immediately after seeing the introduction of the device. By that time, I'm sure he actually got to use it, to hold it in his hands, see how it fits in his bag, and try out the built-in software. I'm sure he got to install a few third-party applications. I'm sure he got to do some thinking about how he uses computers and see if some aspects of that could be made simpler and more efficient.

Actually, I'm sure he didn't do any of that. I can tell by the tone of the article, which is all negative, and by what he doesn't say about the device.

First, he repeats the claim that you should just buy a small laptop that's been made all over the press. Well, people haven't been buying them, even though they've been around for a while. Perhaps its because they're too expensive.

Our device was sized based on the human interface, not on the available technology. We wanted a full sized keyboard without any of the compressed keys you see on lots of laptops. We wanted a place to rest your hands while typing or using the wheel or trackpoint. There's the basic width/height footprint. If you make the device smaller, you have a poorer user interface. Could we have made it thinner? Maybe, but you'd give up battery life because we wouldn't have as much room for power cells or you'd have a weaker case that didn't hold up to extended use.

Also, the use case for the Foleo isn't replacing your laptop. I don't expect many users to give up their laptop computer for this. However, having a device like this around means you don't need to get the tiny laptop that's got the small screen and the lower capabilities; you can replace your desktop system with a more capable laptop that's portable when you need it, even if it's usually docked and hooked up to all your gear. This is a device that can remotely access your system, your files, and your email. In a sense, it's as much of a companion for your laptop as it is a companion for your cell phone, as it supplements what both can do.

I've got a Dell Latitude D610 that I take with me to California. When I'm in the office, it's locked to my desk and has an Ethernet cable tethering it to the Palm network. At home, it's usually either up on my desk or downstairs on a table. It's pretty powerful, and the screen is very nice. However, if I want to take notes in a meeting, do research web browsing on the couch, go sit someplace nice to write a web posting, or play a game of solitaire, I grab my Foleo. I don't have to grab a power brick, I don't have to wait for it to boot up, and I don't have to do some weird shutdown key sequence when I'm done, I just close the lid.

Jakob makes a big deal about us not announcing full specs. They are coming -- he misses the point that we've not actually shipped the device yet. The D conference was a technology demo and a launch of the "idea" of Foleo, but we're still finalizing everything. Some of the ideas behind Foleo are very powerful. Instant on and instant off are big. They made PDAs useful, and it's taken a lot of work to get that same experience into a larger device. Email sync to a phone is really big; it introduces the idea that your data is going to by physically on you or close to you, and that other systems, be them big or small, get to the data through that. There's been a lot of talk about "clouds of data" out on the net. While that makes sense for the information that we all own, having the "master copy" of your own information be on a device that you carry with you all the time seems better from a usability and security view.

Yes, there are some limitations to the device. Some can be fixed by refining and adding to the software that we'll ship with it, some will have to wait for future versions. Some are artifacts of our team having to pick and choose from features to spend time on in order to actually ship the device.

I respect Mr. Nielsen; I've read many of his columns and several of his books. One of his tenets is testing things on actual users. I'm disappointed that he'd dismiss our idea without actually testing what we're doing.
Tags: technology, work
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